Supertyphoon Haiyan: Meeting a monster, a first person account

Supertyphoon Haiyan: Meeting a monster, a first person account

(Editor's Note: DJ Yap, the Inquirer's environment reporter, and photographer Nino Jesus Orbeta were the first Inquirer team sent from Manila to cover Supertyphoon "Yolanda" in Tacloban City. They arrived on Nov. 7, a day before the world's strongest typhoon landed. His tweet on that fateful Friday morning-"Sounds of glass shattering; hotel guests in lobby, restless, alarmed. 'Jesus Christ,' says our fotog Nino Orbeta. 'Worse than Reming.'"-was the first and last time we heard from them until they sent word through GMA 7 on Saturday night that they made it through the storm.)

The woman's smile was a ray of sunshine utterly out of place on that dark and desperate Friday.

She was standing among the ruins of an old church in downtown Tacloban when I chanced upon her, just hours after Supertyphoon "Yolanda" (international name: "Haiyan") tore into the city, sending its residents into the clutches of despair.

Hers was the first true smile I saw that day, the sight of it so unexpected, so jarring, that I found myself asking the one question journalists were supposed to avoid during a catastrophe: "How are you?"

"We are all right. With God's mercy we are all safe," she replied.

Her name is Julita Jaca, and she is 65 years old. She was paying a visit to all the churches in town to say her prayers as her "way of thanking Mama Mary" for saving her and her neighbours.

Along with those neighbours, Jaca had taken refuge on the second floor of their house in a village overlooking Cancabato Bay. They survived, almost miraculously, the ferocious surge of wind and water that flattened entire villages and killed multitudes in the coastal parts of Leyte.

But something was bothering Jaca.

Her 33-year-old son, she said, was reluctant to let the neighbours stay with them and to share the week's supply of food and water the family had stocked up in preparation for the storm.

"I want to tell my son that it's not the time to be selfish," she said, her eyes welling up. "I want him to understand that it is during times like this that we must help others. We should not be selfish."

Her voice broke then, replaced by quiet sobs.

For the first time that day, I came close to crying, too.

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