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Toplight | Six years after Yolanda tragedy, survivors extend their gratitude

What is the anatomy of tears, what is the chemical process that takes place before that liquid precipitates in one’s eyes and soon form rivulets running down one’s cheeks? Several times I was assaulted by that sinking feeling of loss as if it was mine. Tears, a copious amount at that, struck me many times, every time I got to hear accounts of survivors telling their stories and coming to grips with the reality that they won’t be seeing anymore the people they hold dear.

On Nov. 8, 2013, a category 5 hurricane with international name Haiyan, known in our country as typhoon Yolanda hit Central Visayas, considered the strongest ever recorded to strike the planet. I arrived in Tacloban with other journalists, both from local and abroad, and we gathered stories, photos and video materials we would dispatch to our respective news outlets.

One unforgettable story I wrote was that of a 27-year-old mother Irene Icao, who lost all her five children in just one fell swoop that fateful day.

“We tried. Oh, how we tried. But my husband and I just couldn’t save them. It happened so fast. As the wind howled outside, I could barely hear their cries,” she said.

She held her infant child close to her chest as the other four other children clung to her husband’s legs screaming. But they couldn’t swim.

“Then within seconds, water began surging into the room from the sea and our house began to disintegrate. The water was above our heads and debris was everywhere.

“’Mama, Mama,’ they screamed, as we were swept outside, but I was powerless to do anything. The water was too strong.

“I could hear myself screaming to my husband. ‘Don’t let the children go. Hold on to them. For God’s sake, don’t let go of them.’

“But he too was helpless. It was simply too much.

“Suddenly, I was forced below the water and when I resurfaced my baby was gone.

“Then within seconds my other children’s screams stopped and there was nothing but silence. They had disappeared beneath the water and were gone. I lost all five of my children. “My loss? How can I explain it? I’ve lost everything. Everything I cherished. My babies are gone. My little angels. What have I got to live for?

Seeing this mother in tears, I could not help but burst into tears.

There is no shortage of stories to tell as everyone you meet along the road had their share of incredible stories of survival and loss. I’ve met the then city mayor Alfred Romualdez, and he too could not hold back tears recalling his own experience in seeing countless of his constituents desperately asking for help.

Someone asked me to see this five year-old boy at the evacuation center who was left orphaned by the tragedy.

Seeing the boy’s forlorn face, I knew there was a gut-wrenching story behind this. One of his adult relatives said that the boy, almost on a daily basis would join his relatives in searching for the remains of his father, mother and older brother in the area where their house once stood.

Many of the seasoned journalist far more experienced than I, had their own haul of unbelievable stories to tell and they too admitted being reduced to tears by the stories told about the tragedy.

There’s is no tough journalist among us here, says colleagues Jason Gutierrez and Cecil Morella when we chanced on a brief chitchat after a day’s end of newsgathering.

This column serves as a memoriam to the more than 7,000 people who perished, and thousand others who remain unaccounted for or missing.

The indomitable and resilient Filipino spirit will continue to flourish. This is also to extend gratitude to those who extended help during their most trying moment, and to the hard working members of the media who made it known to the world the great tragedy of Yolanda and the countless stories of hope and will to survive.

“Let me express our gratitude for your generosity and compassion as we struggle for recovery,” said Rowel Montes, a journalist and a survivor.

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