Rain pounded on the corrugated iron above him and echoed around the kitchen. He could sense the wind sucking at the edges of the roof trying to pry off the metal sheets. Tree branches clawed at the window, lightning streaked across the grey dawn sky. The walls shuddered as another malevolent gust assaulted the house and bent the coconut palms at perilous angles.
Dressed in tee-shirt and shorts, Izel Sombilon was sitting with his morning coffee in the large square room where his family spent most of their time together. The wall he was facing housed a long white tiled unit with a sink and gas burner on which his mother and his wife prepared the family meals. In the corner stood an old cumbersome television, if they got a good price for their rice this year, Izel was hopeful they could upgrade to a flat screen.
Behind him was the family Sari Sari store, although it fell on Adelaida, his wife, to manage the little shop the majority of the time. It ran the length of the kitchen and three feet wide. The wooden hatch covering the metal grill which served to display items, while keeping them safe from sticky fingers, thumped noisily as the increasing wind snatched at it.
To his left two large windows faced the sea, although only half a mile away, houses blocked a clear view of it. He was looking out at the wooden house in front of his, the family had wisely evacuated last night as it was already showing signs of weakening to the elements. It was half past five on the morning of November 8, 2013 and Yolanda, the category five super typhoon was gathering her strength.
He pulled at the sparse hairs sprouting from his chin reflecting that he wouldn’t be going out to the farm today. It was as well they had managed to harvest most of the rice over the past couple of weeks and get it into the storage sheds before this typhoon. As extra precaution before leaving last night he and his father had helped the farm workers secure tarpaulins over the sacks. He hoped it would be enough to keep their stock safe from the driving rain. They had borrowed money this year to rent extra land but it would be worth it for the extra income, even after they had settled the loan. His thoughts were interrupted by a small voice.
Izel turned to the steps leading down into the kitchen from the rest of the house and where the scared young girl called to him. Tall for her eleven years, Lika Faye’s big brown eyes focused on her father. Her chin length bob of hair dishevelled by sleep, framed her pretty heart shaped face. She was still in her bed clothes, he thought, vest and shorts both in her favourite colour, pink.
‘It’s okay, sweetheart,’ a broad smile was quick to his lips, revealing a row of uneven white teeth under a broad nose, wrinkles creased at the corners of his eyes. ‘This old house has seen off a lot of typhoons, we’re safe here. We just need to sit tight and let her pass. Are Angelina and Ellijah still sleeping?’
Lika Faye nodded. Izel drained his coffee, stood and walked over to the sink unit, rinsed his cup and upended it on the white tiles. Lika Faye padded across the terracotta coloured concrete floor to his side and slipped her warm hand into his.
‘Let’s see what this storm is up to,’ he smiled down at her and together they crossed the room to one of the kitchen windows, peeping out into the grey half-light and at the squall that was growing in strength by the second.
They could just make out debris caught up and dancing in front of them before being whipped away. A powerful gust of wind smashed into the concrete wall causing it to reverberate. They both stepped back in alarm.
Izel could barely hear Adelaida over the raging weather as she appeared with their two younger children. Their eyes were wide and Ellijah’s bottom lip was wobbling. They stood either side of their mother and clung tightly to her skirt.
‘I don’t think I’ll be getting many customers this morning,’ she was trying to keep calm as she nodded at the Sari Sari store and moved into the kitchen, Angelina and Ellijah in tow. Adelaida’s Sari Sari store was one of the most popular of the many corner shops in the San Roque district. Always greeting her customers with a wide smile, Adelaida’s gentle countenance and soft voice made her a favourite with her neighbours. On her regular trips to the big Robinson’s supermarket in Tacloban city, she always tried to find something slightly different from her competitors while ensuring she was well stocked with the usual calls for canned goods, cooking oils and sauces, cigarettes, beer, soft drinks and of course, sweets for the local kids.
The banging of the shutter increased in volume and frequency prompting her to continue: ‘This one’s a bad one, Izel. Maybe we should have evacuated after all. They kept talking about a storm surge, whatever that means, on the radio,’ her voice trembled slightly as she stared at the trees bowing erratically outside.
The overhead florescent strip light flickered. Adelaida had put candles and a couple of storm lanterns on the kitchen table last night in preparation for the approaching typhoon. Although the sun had already risen, the thunderous black clouds and thrashing horizontal rain contradicted the fact. The light blinked on and off a few times more and died, leaving them in grey gloominess.
The two younger children screamed as a coconut smashed through a kitchen window, landing at Izel’s feet. The sudden strength of the wind funnelled through the gaping hole forced Izel backwards into Lika Faye, knocking her to the ground. He grabbed at the child’s elbow pulling her upright and thrust her towards his wife. Rain whipped in through the broken window, stinging at Izel’s flesh. The typhoon won its battle with the corrugated iron and sheets were ripped like paper from the kitchen roof. Others flapped threateningly, beating a fast irregular rhythm on the eaves. Yolanda forced her way into their home, uninvited, the noise deafening.
Trying to make himself heard above the cacophony, Izel screamed at Adelaida, ‘Take the children to my parents’ room.’
Lika Faye looked up at her father, whimpering: ‘What about you, daddy?’
‘I’ll be right behind you, go with your mother. Now!’
They scurried up the five steps leading to the bedrooms. The force of the swirling wind within the house caused them to stumble and knocked Ellijah to his knees. Adelaida yanked the screaming five year old to his feet, fighting to keep upright herself. Izel returned his gaze outside, the speed at which the typhoon was escalating terrified him.
His earlier confidence had been shattered when the roof had been torn away. Above him he could make out sheets of iron, branches and other debris propelled by the force of the increasing wind. The tree in the garden was going to be uprooted any second if the battering continued. Izel debated whether to grab the television before retreating to the back of the house, abandoning the idea when he remembered the weight of it.
The elements were now whipped up into such a fury he couldn’t make out the house in front of theirs. His jaw went slack as he realised in terror why. He was looking at a wall of black water and it was coming straight at him. He stumbled backwards up the stairs, his eyes wide in disbelief. Time slowed and he watched in horror as the wave smashed into the wall of the house. The rest of the windows gave way under the pressure and shards of glass burst into the room quickly followed by sea water. He came to his senses and hurtled towards the back of the house. By the time he reached the bedroom door the water was already up over the steps and rising fast.