When Alan and Estrella Nakama were told a major typhoon was approaching the Philippines in early November, they weren’t worried.
They didn’t plan to leave their home in Tacloban in the San Jose district. Alan bought some extra bread and Estrella picked up a few cans of food.
“We just took it for granted it was going to be like any other typhoon, just like everybody else,” Alan said. “That was a problem and when it hit, it was something very different.”
Estrella nodded in agreement. Many people refused to leave their homes. They were used to strong storms coming and going, quickly.
“They’re not expecting this massive typhoon. They think it will just hit and go. But it lingered for over five hours,” she said.
The destruction was devastating and deadly.
“You can’t imagine,” Alan said.
Typhoon Haiyan was 300 miles across when it struck the Philippines on Nov. 8. Reports later said “it was one of the most intense tropical storms to ever make landfall anywhere in the world. It brought torrential rain, sustained winds of over 195 mph and a storm surge of up to 30 feet that devastated coastal areas.”
The death toll topped 6,000. Nearly 30,000 were injured. It was estimated the storm affected 16 million Filipinos, including 4 million left homeless.
“The typhoon decimated Tacloban, destroying many of the residential and commercial buildings in this once bustling city of 220,000,” according to a news report.
The Nakamas, pastors with King’s Cathedral and Chapels in Tacloban, are in Kauai to attend a conference and visit with friends before returning home this week. Part of the message they want to share is being thankful for what they have, and urge others to donate to the Red Cross to help the Philippines, as the recovery will be slow and painful.
Today, power has been restored to a few areas. Stores are beginning to reopen. But people are living in tents and tiny bunkhouses. Many have nothing. There is still wreckage piled throughout. And bodies are still discovered. It will be years before life, if ever, returns to normal.
The Nakamas survived Typhoon Haiyan — but not without fearing for their lives and for those of the 30 adults and children huddled in their home.
The first level of their home was flooded.
“The water came all of the sudden, like in seconds,” Estrella said. “All the way up to my chest.”
Kids scrambled on top of a bed in the bedroom. That’s when Alan was most afraid. Estrella isn’t a swimmer, and neither were the children. If the water didn’t stop rising, they would drown.
When they fled upstairs, the roof was ripped off. It was freezing, Alan said, water was rising and there was nothing they could do but hold on and pray it would stop.
Eventually, it did.
They lost most everything they owned. Electronics were destroyed. Furniture ruined. Two vehicles in the garage were rusted and useless.
But the pastors with King’s Cathedral and Chapels counted their blessings. They were physically OK. They still had a home. They had helped many more survive, too.
In Typhoon Haiyan’s path, though, death was left behind.
Estrella recalls going out in the following days and being told not to look at the roadside because there were so many dead bodies.
“It was like a war zone,” Estrella said. “I saw a dead boy hanging on a branch in the tree. It was so bad, I would choke from crying.”
In the days that followed, panic and looting and ransacking of stores set in. Everyone needed food and water, but there was none.
“Nobody could help you because everybody was in the same situation,” Alan said. “Everybody was hungry.”
Roads were blocked with debris and fallen trees and posts. The airport was gridlock as people tried to get out.
“It was like an exodus,” Alan said. “It was so chaotic. People were fighting there.”
Their home, despite the damage, provided a place to stay for 20 people and became a haven of sorts amidst the turmoil. Slowly, food, water and supplies and medical teams arrived. Friends are helping each other, sharing what little they have. Strangers pitched in, too. There is hope.
“We just thank God for all of that,” Alan said.
At times, though, what they saw after, was overwhelming.
Estrella grew up in the Philippines. It is her home.
“This was my city,” she said. “It was terrible. I cried so much. I was so sad and broken hearted my city was ruined.”
Alan, a pastor at King’s Cathedral in Tacloban nearly 10 years, said despite the challenges they still face, they have no plans to leave the Philippines.
“God called us down there,” he said. “We have to stay down there until the Lord finishes our mission.”
When asked what final message they would like to share, Estrella offered a single word.
• Bill Buley, editor-in-chief, can be reached at 245-0457 or email@example.com.