He has helped marshal social workers, soldiers and volunteers to distribute aid to the victims, but sighs, “I really don’t know where to start. I cannot imagine the devastation that hit my province.”
As he saw the province from a helicopter, he told himself, “There is no more Eastern Samar province.”
“You cannot recognize it. The devastation was horrific,” he told reporters, his voice cracking.”
News: ‘Eastern Samar is Gone’
The Philippine Star
16 November 2013
The historic town of Balangiga, Eastern Samar was once the site of a historic massacre to defend Philippine independence. On September 28, 1901, locals attacked Americans with bolos (daggers) in what the United States considers “the bloodiest chapter” of its history in the Philippines.
On November 8, 2013, the town would experience the challenge of a generation: the arrival of Super Typhoon Yolanda.
To save Mayor Viscuso de Lira sought to act early to save lives, ordering a forced evacuation on November 5.
In Balangkayan, local municipal accountant Melinda B. Borja remembers the dual nature of Yolanda: first came the gale-force winds, then the flooding rain. In coastal areas, storm surges would reached up to 10 feet. Each weather event, wrecking havoc on local homes, schools, roads and critical infrastructure.
Two years may have passed since Yolanda struck. Despite the challenges of long-term disaster recovery, in Balangkayan, the message is clear. “We are moving forward,” Rene says. “We are just taking all our rehabilitation, step by step.”
Maria Daina C. Monta has served as the municipal bookkeeper in General MacArthur, Eastern Samar, for more than twenty-five years. What she and her community experienced during Super Typhoon Yolanda will stay with them for a lifetime.
“A group of army soldiers were stationed at one of our upland barangays , and they themselves witnessed giant waves in the Pacific Ocean,” she remembers. “As it approached the shoreline, they saw how it parted into two: maybe that was the storm surge. Since it was divided, it spared our municipality from extensive damage, but our neighboring municipalities were badly affected,” she remembers.
Super Typhoon Yolanda first made landfall in the municipality of Guiuan, Eastern Samar. Almost all the structures within the municipality were left in ruins, and the town remained largely isolated in the first days to follow.
“Almost everything were completely washed out,” explains Rosario D. Merilles, a local market vendor. “All the business establishments, even those were made from concrete. Houses, schools, roads: everything here was affected by Yolanda.”
“We knew that it will be a super typhoon, but its strength really took us by surprise,” says local market vendor Elena G. Gayda. “Since our public market is located right beside the sea, we already anticipated that it will be affected by Yolanda,” she explains.
As with nearby houses and other infrastructure, the super typhoon stripped the roof from the market. Stalls were blown away by the freakishly powerful winds, and all that remained of the once-thriving market were the remnants of what had been structural columns.
In Llorente, local municipal employees remember well the difficulties to arise in ensuring government services, after Super Typhoon Yolanda. “It was difficult,” says municipal employee Jesse D. Contado. “We had to return to work right away.”
“Although, thank God that the water did not enter the Municipal Hall.” This key government building sustained partial damages due to the strong winds.
“The weather is very unpredictable nowadays and it is very hard if you’re greatest opponent is the ocean,” he added.
This is how Germi Flynn D. Garfin, a municipal engineer from the coastal town of Maydolong, Eastern Samar, describes Yolanda’s onslaught.
“The strong winds tore off the roofs of the houses, the municipal hall and the civic center. Power lines and tress had been toppled. Debris was everywhere,” he says. “At that moment, it really felt like the end of the world.”
“We’re used to typhoons. We know the feel of them, and how the surrounding ares begin to look as they arrive.”
Yet on November 8, 2013, the weather was fine and clear. “So from our experiences, we simply thought it would not come.”
“Among the municipalities passed by Yolanda in Eastern Samar, Quinapondan was still lucky because it incurred minimal damage, when compared to our neighboring municipalities,” Mayor Nedito A. Campo remembers.
Yet despite the minimal physical damage, the Mayor explains, local survivors experienced a kind of damage that proves invisible at first glance.
“The Yolanda experience was an eye opener for everyone,” Mayor added. “During the typhoon, in our municipal hall, there was total chaos.”