Typhoon Haiyan

Driven by despair and determination to survive: a couple's typhoon story

Couple tell of ordeal when typhoon struck and the daily hardship they are learning to live with

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 16 November, 2013, 3:49am
UPDATED : Saturday, 16 November, 2013, 3:52am

The despair around them has become so commonplace that Joyma and Delfin Perlas, in some ways, feel lucky.

They are not quite homeless. They sleep in a concrete husk, the ground covered by a tarpaulin, using damp clothing for pillows.

And they are not quite desperate. They can still get water and food, so long as they can scrounge enough money - and then chance into a seat - for the two-hour ferry ride to the intact city of Cebu. "Yes, I would say we are lucky," Delfin said. "But our lives are terrible."

In their post-typhoon existence, survival itself has become a full-time job in a region where water is scarce, banks are closed, fuel is non-existent and candles provide the only light.

I would say we are lucky … If we’d stayed in Tacloban we’d probably be dead

Joyma, 35, and Delfin, 38, lost no loved ones, but their experience in the past week points at the broadest consequences of the super typhoon. As the storm struck, they huddled in their attic and watched the neighbours' roofs fly off like kites. The following day, Saturday, they were still almost too dazed to walk, let alone plan. By Sunday, grocery store prices had tripled. By Monday, the shelves were empty.

And by Tuesday, with aid still slow to flow, Joyma and Delfin realised they needed a plan.

"We couldn't just wait for help," Joyma said.

They headed to the Ormoc city pier, the entrance point for nearly all goods and people along the central western coast of Leyte island. The ferries can shepherd 250 passengers, and - more importantly - carry towers of boxed food and water.

There are three departures and arrivals per day from Cebu.

By the time Joyma and Delfin showed up at the terminal on Tuesday, seats for all three departures were already sold out.

The couple waited on standby, and the clouds darkened as a much smaller tropical storm rolled through.

Two students got nervous about the weather and sold their tickets - about US$15 each - to Joyma and Delfin, who boarded the ferry hungry, unshowered and nearly in tears.

Those who have boarded in the past week to be transported away from Ormoc end up coming right back. They haul with them loads of bottled water, sacks of rice and crates of instant noodles all for relatives or friends who couldn't get onto the ferry.

About 190,000 people live in Ormoc, and though just dozens died there in last week's storm, nearly all the buildings were flattened or torn apart.

The city now resembles a five-kilometre-wide junkyard.

Delfin is a pastor. The homes of most of his congregants have been damaged or destroyed.

Delfin and Joyma actually drove towards the path of the storm. On the Thursday they dropped a friend off at the airport in Tacloban - the city that on the next day would be pulverised by the storm, leaving several thousands estimated dead.

Delfin and Joyma debated staying overnight in Tacloban but decided against it and arrived home at midnight. It was six hours before landfall. "If we'd stayed in Tacloban," Delfin said, "we'd probably be dead."

Delfin and Joyma say they have almost no money. Before their trip to Cebu, they borrowed some from a friend, and received a donation from another church.

But they exhausted most of that on shopping for essentials over the past two days, buying candles, canned food and instant coffee that they will use for themselves and distribute to the church congregants.

The food will probably last for three days, Joyma said. "After that, we don't know."

On Thursday, they showed up at the ferry terminal in Cebu in the mid-afternoon, already holding tickets for the return to Ormoc - the last trip of the day.

For the next two hours, the ferry passed from a well-lit city to a destroyed one. When it pulled up to the terminal in Ormoc, shortly after midnight, hundreds waited outside on the pier.

Delfin and Joyma picked up their boxes. Then they walked through the crowd, heading into a city they might have to leave again in a matter of days.