I don’t know where to start with my week. I haven’t emailed since last Monday so a lot has happened. But I will just focus on this week in this email. All about Typhoon “Nona” that hit my area on Monday.
Sunday night we watched the Christmas Devotional at the church and afterwards, our Stake President who works at a typhoon watch area warned us of a typhoon that would start that night and last til Monday so school was cancelled. It was a Signal 1 typhoon meaning just stay in our apartments and we were not allowed to proselyte on Monday – not a huge deal. Signal 1/2 is just like heavy rain that may cause floods. So I wasn’t nervous or really scared at all. We went back to our house after a dinner appointment (and the STL’s got transferred so now it is just Sister Cerdenia and I in the house) and did our usual updating area books and planning for Monday which was “cleaning day” since transfers were Tuesday. There was a little rain Sunday night but nothing really.
Monday morning we woke up to a text that said the typhoon was increased to a Signal 2, still not a big deal apparently, so we spent the morning deep cleaning the entire apartment (I mean our apartment was looking dang good, completely spotless and fresh).At 9ish we got another text from the District Leader saying we should prepare our things for evacuation to the church JUST IN CASE. So I packed a bag with a few outfits in it and the “most important stuff i owned”. We waited and waited for a text that said we should go to the church but when the rain picked up, they cut the signal and power off. Around 11 o’ clock it started to rain incredibly hard and the wind was stronger than any wind I had ever felt so we knew the typhoon had reached our house, but I still had the mindset that this would just be a heavy rainstorm (since I had no past experience with typhoons) and I am an Arizona girl so I have seen less rain than a cactus. I sat against a wall in my bed and the wall started to shake really hard and the wind soon had our whole house shaking and doors slamming shut. Our windows were rusty so they wouldnt close so we had so much rain coming into our house. We sat at our beds trying to personally study but rain was getting everywhere and the screen was dirty so it was black rain.
It seemed like 5 seconds had passed before the floors started to flood with the rain water we couldn’t keep out. I looked at the wall that my bed was against and it looked like it was sweating black water because of the water hitting it. Creepiest thing I had seen in a long time. Rain pipes from the hotel right next to our house then started breaking and falling. At this point Sister Cerdenia and I knelt down and said a prayer together. I prayed longer and harder Monday than I have ever prayed, but not for myself. I prayed for the families and houses of the people that I have fallen in love with this past week, because I knew that their houses could not be okay. I prayed for their safety and for their houses all day. My heart was breaking as I went through all our investigators, less actives, recent converts, and members in my mind and tried to analyze the condition of each of their houses and whether it was strong enough to withstand the wind that was shaking our house. There were only a few I could think of that could. Then the giant trees in front of our house started losing their giant branches and our yard started filling up with water. TIn roofs from everywhere were flying into our backyard and leaves and water continued getting into our house.
With no way to stop it, we went in the room with the fewest windows and just sat on the beds and sang hymns and prayed. I still didn’t know or understand the severity of this typhoon. I went to sleep at about 7 and the typhoon was still going on.
We woke up the next morning at 6 to start cleaning our house again because there was about 2 inches of black water covering the floors in most of our house. I started on the outside, putting tin roofs, pipes, wood from houses, trees, and branches into a massive pile in our yard. I swept up all the leaves from around our house and had to carry them by the arm full to put them in the pile of what was once standing trees, people’s roofs, and the frames to peoples houses. Our phone was dead now and there was no way to communicate with anyone to figure out what we were supposed to do, so we decided to leave our home that was hidden from the rest of Catarman, to find supplies or a way to charge our phone since we had no electricity.
As we walked outside of our sheltered home, we quickly realized that this typhoon was not just Category 1 or 2 but that it had to be at least a 3 or 4 category typhoon. Most of the palm trees that had once shaded the road and pathway to our area were now lying flat on the ground. The little store we always go to had 4 palm trees crushing it. There were phone lines everywhere and the poles to those lines no longer erect. Each new sight broke my heart a little more. I quickly realized I didn’t care what we were SUPPOSED to do, I knew that we needed to help and to check on the people that I love so much. As we walked I silently cried so Sister Cerdenia wouldn’t know how hard it was for me to see all the destruction (I was afraid if she knew how hard it was she would make us go back to the apartment). I have never seen such great destruction and I have never cared so much about people that I have known for such a short time. Every big tree in our area was no longer standing. I could count on my hands the number of roofs that were still on houses. The images of what we saw that morning after Typhoon Nona will always be a part of my memory.
We decided to first check on Mila. We got to her house that now had no roof and I couldn’t hold back my feelings. I broke down and started to bawl because I knew that she couldn’t be the only one that had no shelter anymore. Pathetically, Mila was the one hugging me and telling me that everything was alright. I should have been the one hugging her and helping her. She wouldn’t let us help her even through persistent begging and pleading so we left and I cried more while we walked to our other investigators and members. I told myself that I couldn’t let any more of these people see me cry after they had lost their homes, so I put on a brave face for them. One of our other investigators home was completely gone. It had collapsed and she was trying to clean everything help and pile pieces of her home that she could still use to build. Her husband is in Manila so it was just her and her 4 kids. We helped her for about an hour get all of the ruined, sopping clothes and food from under the roof. Then we went to Mary Anne, our 12 yr old recent convert who has been like my little sister. A giant tree fell on her house and there was nothing left standing. Slowly but surely we visited every person we could think of to try to help them and they all refused our help but we did everything we could anyway. Nay Esmerelda, who helps me with my language stayed in her little house all alone through the whole thing. She too no longer had a roof. She was the only one who we had been too who hadn’t evacuated to the church or a strong building while the typhoon was going on.
The Elders found us finally and told us we had to stay at the church and not go out because it was dangerous. We stayed in the church because we had to from Tuesday afternoon until last night. It was incredibly hard for me to just sit and do nothing when I knew I could be helping my Filipino family with their houses. Since there is no signal or power President Maurer doesn’t know how bad the hurricane was. So for now we get to stay in our areas and I pray that they do not pull us out. My heart will honestly break if I have to leave the people who have consumed my thoughts, my heart, and my life for the past month and who need help so badly.
We are emailing from a city two hours away from our area right now because my area will be without electricity for a few months.
I wish I could write more and explain better the things that I saw and felt. But just know that no one was hurt and that was a huge blessing. When we were walking and helping, all the kids were still so happy and everyone was smiling; I think my tears were the only ones we saw all week. It really made me juxtapose Filipinos to Americans. And made me realize that as long as we have our family still and the gospel and knowledge of Jesus Christ and our plan we can be happy no matter what. These people have literally just lost their homes and they are still so happy. I am so blessed to be able to know them and be surrounded by people like this.
I love you all so much. Stay safe and be so grateful for everything, especially the people in your life.
PS I will be able to email again on Monday about the updates of what we will be doing. Until then, we get to actually help and rebuild houses. Finally. Last week during my personal study, I came across a quote that I just realized fits perfectly into what I learned this week from Typhoon Nona.
“Gratitude transcends whatever is happening around us. It surpasses disappointment, discouragement and despair. It blooms just as beautifully in the icy landscape of winter as it does in the pleasant warmth of summer.”
The Filipino people are a perfect example of this. Their gratitude for their families’ safety transcended the fact they lost their homes or part of their homes.