PHILIPPINES - Neither the pull of power nor the sheen of celebrity could protect anyone from the wrath of Supertyphoon "Yolanda."
Officials of Tacloban City, which bore the brunt of the supertyphoon's fury, were among those who escaped with only the shirts on their backs.
Having nothing else to wear, Tacloban Mayor Alfred Romualdez had to don a pair of shorts-apparently among the items looted from a department store-which someone had given him, according to his wife, Tacloban Councilor Cristina Gonzales-Romualdez.
Cristina herself had to borrow underwear and shirts from friends.
But the most horrifying experience came at the height of Yolanda's onslaught.
An angry wind
Cristina flew to Manila on Monday to help coordinate relief efforts, bring her children over, and also quell rumours about her supposed demise.
She spoke at a press briefing in Makati City, where relief goods were being packed for the typhoon victims.
The former actress recounted how her two daughters and their househelp clung to the beams on the ceiling of their guesthouse, where they had sought shelter, as the waters raged around them. The wind had blown off its roof.
"It was a strong wind … an angry wind," she recalled, giving a high-pitched scream to imitate its power.
Cristina's husband was inspecting a nearby resort when the water came, forcing him and his aides to retreat to a ballroom and hang from the ceiling, as the sea tried to claim them, she said.
"We almost lost him," she said.
On the morning Yolanda struck, Cristina and her daughters, aged 10 and 14, plus the household staff, left their home facing the Pacific Ocean to seek shelter in a guesthouse farther inland.
But such was the typhoon's strength that the water went rushing in. Her children were afraid but she assured them they were not going to die.
"I was just praying. Praying and praying and praying with my kids," she said.
She recited Psalm 91, a prayer for protection, and sang worship songs with her children.
'Is this a movie?'
When the water receded, the family, including their dog, a German Shepherd, walked through the debris to reach downtown. Cristina said she had only a few scratches and rolled up her pants to show a bright red gash down her leg.
But she still reeled from the experience. "Is this a dream? Is this a movie?" she remembered thinking.
Since then, she and her husband had been helping tend to the city's shocked residents and doing what they could to restore some semblance of order.
"Everybody was a victim," she said. "It's not a normal typhoon where the (social welfare department) is here to provide help because they were also victims. So who was going to help?"
Driven to desperation
This was why she was saddened by reports claiming her husband could not be located in Yolanda's aftermath. Publicizing their efforts and having their pictures taken while helping others were not on their minds, she said.
But she said she was very grateful for the help pouring in.
As for the looters, she said many were driven to desperation because they wanted to help their families.
"They just wanted to get food for their families and to survive," she said.
She recalled that some of the people were sharing the loot with others, for example the clothes taken from stores.
Her husband's aides were given short pants and her husband wore one pair because he had no other clothes with him.
"Now is not the time to play the blame game. Rather, it's time to unite and pick up the pieces. We have to bury our dead," Leyte Rep.
Ferdinand Martin Romualdez, a cousin of Mayor Romualdez, told reporters.
The congressman said he would not take issue with President Aquino's remark that Tacloban officials did not seem to have been prepared.
According to the lawmaker, Aquino's remarks were probably made before he was apprised of the actual situation.
"No one, not here or abroad, could prepare for this supertyphoon, this catastrophe of unprecedented proportions," he said. "Everyone did as much as was humanly possible to prepare … yet no one was spared," he added.
Cristina said that three days before Yolanda struck, local officials had evacuated people and warned them of possible storm surges.
She said officials chose evacuation centers that were sturdy but such was Yolanda's strength that even the hardiest houses gave way.
"Even if that happened in Metro Manila, I'm sure the same thing would happen," she said.
In a House resolution, Romualdez urged the President to place the entire country under a state of calamity. The resolution was coauthored by other representatives.
Romualdez said a presidential proclamation was needed to control the prices of basic necessities and prime commodities and allow the grant of noninterest loans to the victims.
He also said he would push for the creation of a commission to handle relief and assistance operations in areas battered by Yolanda.
Romualdez said he could understand the looters' frustration since many were left with nothing but there was also a need to restore order.
This has not been easy because policemen and local officials were also victims of Yolanda.