Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The Typhoon called Yolanda, Part 3 of 3

The Typhoon called Yolanda, Part 3 of 3 (Day 42)

by Rey Laguda

(This is the 42nd day of 50-day journey of DepEd Undersecretary Rey Laguda as being serialized here with his permission, culled from his Facebook account - Blogger/owner)

Day 3 and Beyond

We woke up early to clean up the rooms and surroundings. We received confirmation that Br. Armin Luistro and Francis Varela were making it through from Cebu via Ormoc. Br. Armin was adamant in staying wherever we were staying. I kept on offering him a place that we found where he could probably be more comfortable but he refused. So SDS Art Isip took charge and led the clean up. He even placed plants beside the room as we swept the dirt and mud from the floors. It was as if we were not in a typhoon-ravaged environment.

The first surprise we got for the morning was when Laura, the regional supply officer, came bringing along home-cooked breakfast! It was a good break from canned meat and sardines. I was telling the teachers that we would encounter, that they should start planting vegetables in Leyte National High School because as time would pass, they will get tired of canned food and noodles. Besides, it would be unhealthy too. Roland from Cebu Ecotech, being the expert in vegetable gardening, was suggesting malunggay and alugbati since these are fast growing.

The next (and even better) surprise was when Ronel-Carmen Nuevo Firmo, SDS of Leyte, appeared. He was limping as he walked in to greet us. We were all so elated that he was safe and okay. He told us what had happened to him and his family. Flood waters raged and reached the base of the second floor. They had to move up and he had to put some of his kids on the roof. His driver was not as fortunate as he perished together with his two kids. As soon as waters subsided, he did something nobody expected him to do. He took a motorcycle and started going around Saturday morning and checking on our people. One can never fully explain the kind of heroic things people do amidst crisis. It borders on craziness but it is amazing nonetheless.

As the operations center was already functioning and staffed by DepEd personnel who were not affected, I got the go signal to proceed to Ormoc and cross to Cebu. Jocelyn Saw was going to stay behind and meet up with Br. Armin and Francis as they arrived. I needed to be in Bacolod as I had promised my family way back that we would make a trip home. I was leaving Leyte thinking that many peoples’ lives have been changed by this event and that the future was going to be uncertain. I knew my own life will be changed in the weeks, months, or even years to come.

I spent a few days in my home province and as soon as I arrived, I immediately felt sick. I felt a great sense of heaviness on my shoulders. My wife’s aunt, immediately told me to get in a tub of hot water to make me feel better. It did! I used the weekend to recharge as I was flying to Eastern Samar on Monday.

I landed in Catarman on Monday, Nov 18. After quickly, passing by the division office. We immediately proceeded towards Borongan via Taft. As we were travelling towards Borongan, I was worried about what I was going to see along Eastern Samar’s coastline. How were our schools? How were our people? We would then get some reports that the northern part of Eastern Samar was not as affected as Guian and the southern part of the province. I was so happy when I saw one of our teachers wearing her Monday uniform onboard a motorcycle. She was off to school for Monday classes!

We had finally gotten word that SDS Judith Boco and Bernardo Adina were both okay. Their staff and personnel at the Borongan and Eastern Samar divisions were okay as well. We got to Borongan in the afternoon. I was told that our nurses from the division had decided to go to Guiuan as early as Monday after Yolanda. They agreed to split into two teams. The first team was going to be replaced after one week. They were going to offer any help that they could – from emergency care to psychosocial debriefing.

We slept for the night in Borongan and made our way early next day. We would pass by every town going to Guiuan and meet with the Mayors and check on our people and schools. By nighttime, we needed to look for a place to stay as we were still about two towns away from Guiuan. We were welcomed by this couple – a principal and a teacher into their home. They offered me their room no matter how much I refused. A family who had to endure the worst typhoon in history, never lost their sense of generosity, decency and hospitality. It was sincere and heartfelt that transcended positions and authority. I couldn’t sleep the whole night thinking about it while staring at their DepEd uniforms hanging from the wall, ready for the next day.

The following day, we needed to get to Guiuan. Again, we visited every town and sat with the respective local chief executives and got a quick assessment. We crossed paths with the first batch of DepEd nurses. I was half expecting that they would all look so tired and weary. But no, they all radiated to be full of energy. They all looked like they could stay on for another week. In my mind, they will always be the Amazonas of DepEd Eastern Samar.

As you all know, Guiuan took the brunt of the first landfall. Most of our schools there were pummeled and damaged. We went around schools and met with officials. And for the remainder of the day, we did that for the other towns too going towards Tacloban. Our team must have gotten to Tacloban late in the evening.

This was only the first two weeks after Yolanda. Other teams went to Regions 6 and 7 as well to check on our people and the damages suffered by our schools and communities. We mobilized resources and people for response and even up to recovery. Other regions came to help and I could never be more proud of DepEd and other agencies who brought out their best given the circumstances. Nothing fully prepares you for a typhoon of this magnitude. But let it not be said that we did nothing.

I salute the men and women who served and continue to do so in rebuilding schools, lives and communities. Recovery continues. We don't give up. We just keep on doing the work until it is finished.

(I posted an Album - Eastern Samar 1 week after Yolanda - if you want to see what we saw back then. It is very different now when you take that same route.)



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