Thursday, November 21, 2013

Overcoming “This Writer’s” Block: Super Typhoon Yolanda

Hi! I'm back from another blogging hiatus. It's almost the last week of the month and if you click on November on the right margin of this blog, you'd see that this is just my third post for the month. No, it was not a case of the proverbial writer's block. I just couldn't bring myself to sit and write, to share the bliss in my life the last couple of weeks. It didn't feel right to do so. Actually, until now it just feels off to blog about anything not relevant to the horrific aftermath of super typhoon Yolanda (international name: Haiyan). I've been intending for days now to put down in writing my own thoughts about it, but I haven't gathered enough guts, fearing my total lack of first-hand experience in what has happened would have me blabbering for naught. I've no family among the millions affected. The nearest connection I'd say I have is having a close friend whose mother resides in one of the towns of Eastern Samar.

As luck would have it, I couldn't recall having been directly affected by a typhoon. I grew up in Manila. When Ondoy inundated it, I was conveniently away. So, I feel I am not in any way capable of offering my opinion on the issues surrounding the relief operations that are now, as many say, underway but hardly felt by the victims across the Visayas.

I did ride on the social media trending ST Yolanda. I would share on Facebook news or blog links, but I tended to share only the ones angling more on the positive side, and avoided posting criticisms about how the government has prepared for and responded to Yolanda's strength and the devastation it left. But I know I would have felt differently, maligned the government’s efforts had I a relative among the victims who've gone for days cold and hungry, and desperate for a sign of help, or worse, had I lost a loved one or even just a friend to the typhoon. I would have thrown out vindictive comments out of frustration over the government’s handling of relief operations.

Had I been in the middle of the aftermath, a witness to uncollected cadavers strewn along the streets, to the almost apocalyptic scenes as was the CNN veteran reporter Anderson Cooper, I would have a better sense or grasp of the situation as it were. But sitting in the comforts of my home, watching the stream of the first graphic photos and videos that came out, most of them two days into the aftermath, I was witnessing it from afar, disconnected from the reality. Yes, of course, the images were so heart-rending that like you, I cried watching the news.

CNN almost became a local channel with a number of reporters reporting live from Leyte, Cebu and Manila. When local channels moved on with their local programs days after the height of media coverage, CNN remained steadfast in flashing updates and reporting on the situation in the Philippines. In fact, on that Friday when Yolanda made its first landfall, I was tuned in more to CNN as they were giving more frequent updates, and highlighting the typhoon’s record-breaking strength and speed as it made its first landfall. Their report was scary. Local channels on the morning of that day featured interviews of some local residents who said that they were used to typhoons and would evacuate only when they see the need to do so. Clearly, many who were living along Yolanda’s predicted path did not understand the weather forecast of possible storm surge reaching up to 5 meters high. No one thought of the possibility of Yolanda wiping out Tacloban City and other towns in Leyte and Samar, along with the small islands that were right smack along Yolanda’s path.

Despite the painful scenes and heart-breaking stories, somehow, I would find myself (unusually) tuned in to the TV and radio (while in the car), wanting to hear updates, to feel one with the nation during these most challenging times. In my heart, there was a yearning to help. While my family did help in small ways, what help we gave feels so inadequate. In my diminished capacity now as a full-time homemaker, I wish could do more.

The continuous coverage about Yolanda in a way sensitizes us to the gravity of the conditions of our fellow Filipinos that Yolanda left without houses and livelihood, and in sorrow over the loss of loved ones - family, friends, and neighbors. While we feel involved in the first days or weeks after the typhoon, we would be inclined to disassociate ourselves, to continue on with our lives. But I pray that we would keep the victims in our thoughts and prayers everyday until Leyte and Samar, and the rest of the severely affected provinces have been restored to normalcy.

This article about the typhoon that hit Leyte, Samar, Panay Island, Cebu, and Mindoro way back in 1897 had striking similarities in terms of its path, the storm surge it caused, and the devastation it left. It inspires hope and belief that if the communities then were able to overcome the tragedy and rise from the ruins, so can and so will the communities now. Tacloban City and Ormoc City will rise to be better than they were, more resilient and better prepared. I would want to believe that God would give them time to rebuild, and that He would not let a typhoon of such force happen in the next 100 years, not again over the Philippines’ side of the earth. The Filipinos have been fully awakened to nature’s wrath, but have a long way to go towards disaster preparation, or in the words of the late, beloved Sec. Jesse Robredo, “disaster-proofing.”

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