Friday, January 24, 2014

Blown Away


On November 7, the day before Typhoon Haiyan (known as Yolanda in the Philippines) hit the coast of the Visayas Region, I had watched the opening, black-and-white scenes from The Wizard of Oz, and watched, with special fascination, the approach of the tornado that snatched up Dorothy's house (with her inside it) and transported it to the Land of Oz. 

I had also told my girlfriend's eleven-year-old daughter the bedtime story of the "Three Little Pigs," who lived in houses made of straw (nipa), sticks (plywood), and of brick. She was delighted when I did the voice of the Big Bad Wolf and the little pigs. 

"Open the door and let me in!"
"Not by the hair of my chinny chin chin!"
"Then I'll huff and I'll puff and I'll BLOW YOUR HOUSE IN!"

It was certainly an edifying fairy tale for a Probinsyano - a Filipino from the provinces - who builds his house out of brick (cinder-block), rather than straw or sticks (there are no building codes whatsoever in the country). All of Haiyan's fearsome huffing and puffing failed to blow down my house.

I was inside my sturdy cinder-block house, situated about a hundred kilometers northwest of  Tacloban, the city that bore the full savagery of the storm, when the 250-300 kph winds crashed into my province. When the first telltale sound of an oncoming express train signaled the arrival of the winds (I could even hear the uncanny sound of their acceleration) I was sitting down, and I had the rather alarming sensation of my house moving ever so slightly from its foundations. 

I stood up. I was on my feet for the next three hours as the world outside was torn to shreds - stout mango and jackfruit trees were stripped of their limbs, the houses adjacent to mine, constructed of either nipa (grass) or plywood disintegrated piecemeal as, one after another, the express trains came and went. The people who lived in these houses were safely sheltered in the precincts of their church in the nearby port city. Unbeknownst to me, however, one of my neighbors who drove a taxi for a precarious living, had come to the incredible decision of riding out the storm with his family inside the taxi. It was from there that they watched the roof of their flimsy house blow off and land within a few meters of the taxi. When I saw there were people inside the vehicle, I opened one of my windows and bellowed at them to get out of the taxi and come into my house.

The power supply to the entire region had been shut off hours before the storm's arrival, as a precaution to avoid accidental electrocutions from live wires hanging from downed utility poles. The power wasn't restored to my area until thirty-nine days later. I remember the days of my childhood in the American South when an ice storm knocked down all the power lines. Sitting at home with my family, since schools were all closed, and gathering around a candle and a battery-operated radio were precious times for me. The thirty-nine day blackout (known erroneously by the locals as a "brownout") that ended on December 17 was nothing like that.

(To be continued.)  

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