Una Rose – Author

Putting the world to write!

Surviving a Philippine Typhoon


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A natural disaster will always make me more inclined to give everyone dear to me an extra big hug next time we meet. “Yolanda” the super typhoon to hit the Philippines this week is especially upsetting, as not only do I now have a relative who lives there, but I too was once caught up in a super typhoon in the country and truly marooned for a week and left unable to call home or the office to say all was okay.

I was on a mini diving trip with friends in Cebu – one of the joys of working in Hong Kong is the ability to escape to a tropical island for the weekend, or that was what everyone back there thought we were doing. But a crazy meeting with someone on our first night took us on an adventure to the nearby island of Malapascua. Back in 1995, this was not a tourist destination, rather a quaint and stunningly beautiful island which was home to a small fishing community. My rather glamorous friend Philomena was certainly not impressed with the rudimentary facilities which included a cold salt water bucket shower. She had been meaning to go away with a friend to the Shangri-La but at the last minute been persuaded by myself and partner in crime Cathy. It would certainly be a holiday none of us could ever forget!

We took a bus through the night but the route was terminated before we got to the port, as a great storm was brewing. The streets were awash with flood waters delighting the young children who were dancing naked in the rain. We should have had some common sense to turn back at that time. But we were young, (foolish?) and up for an adventure and found someone to drive us to the ferry quay.

It was a chaotic scene as the Malapascuans were piling onto the last boat home with and we were sat on top of a giant pyramid of supplies to last them through the pending disaster. All I can remember of that very packed journey on the flimsy wooden vessel was the clink of beer bottles in crates and the friendly chitter chatter as Cathy passed around some bottle of liquor she had purchased en route. The sun shone and the boat was not the least bit rocky. We just couldn’t believe what they were telling us, about some super typhoon on the way and in any case Hong Kong has regular typhoons and we had survived them.

We had to walk the plank to disembark and we took up residence in a shack on the beach with an en-suite hole-in-the-ground and went to the café for dinner. The electricity had gone off and all they could cook for us was a mango pancake, but hey it was an adventure, and that was certainly ethnic. Little did we know then, it would be the same offering for breakfast, lunch and dinner for several days to come. “I wish I was at the Shangri-La” became not only Philomena’s mantra by the end of our trip!

It got quite windy overnight but the next day it was paradise on the deserted pristine white-sanded beach and the azure sea was too tempting to resist. “What typhoon?” we asked locals who simply smiled back knowingly. Well it would come after we have left we assumed and we made plans to depart the next day enquiring when the next ferry would leave.  “Angela is coming,” they warned. All the ferries were cancelled, so we began to ask the fishermen as is the norm in Hong Kong. There when you miss your last ferry home, you simply negotiate a lift in a fisherman’s sampan. But seemingly no amount of ready cash was swaying these more savvy Filipino fishermen, who no doubt had young children and elderly parents to think about before putting their lives and ours at risk.

Regular brown-outs meant electricity was scant on the island and the telephones weren’t working, so we really had no clue about how close this storm was. As it happens we escaped its wrath, but we did rescue one of the local girls out swimming who was being pulled under by a strong rip tide. It was the closest we came to danger. Yet Typhoon “Angela” was (until now) one of the strongest storms to ever hit the Philippines with gusts of up to 260 kilometres an hour killing 936 people.

While our loved ones worried, there was nothing else for us to do than party. We met two British travellers and as the only foreigners on the island we became a curiosity and were brought to meet the mayor and his family. His daughter decided to show us around. It was November 1st which is All Soul’s Night and there was going to be a celebration in the village. We anticipated it to be in the town square but were led to the edge of town to the graveyard which was lit up with candles and lights using generators, music was blaring and food was laid out so families could feast with their dearly departed relatives. It was one of the most memorable parties I have ever been to, not only for its unusual setting. It was because of the very warm welcome we were given by the people that night and for the rest of our week on Malapascua. Once the storm had passed, the fishermen came and found us and got us back to Cebu as soon as was possible. We were sad to leave this paradise.

I often thought I might include our escapade in a novel. My debut book The Tokyo Express (www.estuarypublishing.co.uk) opens with the Japanese tsunami and it is the point the main character realises the love he turned away may be gone forever. Sadly these natural disasters are becomingly far too frequent and create scenes that in the past would have been considered too far-fetched if portrayed in literature. Then today I read with tremendous sadness that the tiny idyllic island of Malapascua has been levelled by the typhoon.

http://www.theepochtimes.com/n3/355177-malapascua-island-leveled-by-typhoon-yolanda-photos

According to the BBC, #Malapascua which is only 2km long, was in the path of the typhoon – people have lost everything. “All the wooden structures where the locals live have been demolished. The resorts are all destroyed. The island has a population of three or four thousand and incredibly there were no fatalities.”

My heart goes out to those victims of this latest Philippine disaster who are only just recovering from an earthquake. For a land so often ravaged by disaster, they are such lovely and hard-working people – Filipinos practically run our NHS, are usually are the best staff at hotels and on ships when we go on holiday and are the domestic workers of many Asian and Arab countries. If you want to know more about how hard life can be for the ordinary Filipino ask your nurse next time you are in hospital, or the catering lady in your canteen. You can bet your dollar they have left family behind to come here and work their socks off to send it home for their kids to have a better life. I had a cleaner in Hong Kong who was a qualified psychiatrist but who made more money cleaning my windows!

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This entry was posted on November 11, 2013 by in Uncategorized and tagged .

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