Friday, November 15, 2013

Letter from Merlie Alunan, poet, critic, academic, and typhoon Haiyan survivor

MERLIE ALUNAN, acclaimed poet, critic and academic, lived in Tacloban, Leyte for 20 years. She and her family survived typhoon Haiyan, their house, a relative distance from the seaside, losing its roof. I was among her many friends - colleagues, former students - who constantly monitored their Facebook news feeds for word about her. Four days ago, a message that she was safe; today, she posted the letter below on her Facebook wall, writing out of Cebu City.

Photo from Tim Tomlinson, grabbed off Merlie's Facebook wall.


Dear Friends,

For three days after the storm at least, we puttered around the house and out in what was left of the garden, trying to get dry, put things back, fix what we can of the roof. The pipes have dried up, people around us were beginning to worry about what to drink. The day after the storm, Jang and Eb and Dax and Anya took a car to go around the city and came back with stories--the looting had seriously gotten started in whatever places they could get to-- Robinson's Mall, Natasha, Godsend.

On this second day, not a sign of government presence, though we had already heard about the deaths in Astrodome, a major evacuation center, the total desolation of San Jose and the downtown area. We heard rumors of the mayor's own encounter with calamity, probably the reason why the response from the local government had not been forthcoming. We also considered how the storm had affected everyone, each one was now preoccupied with his own household to mind anything else. The black out of communication was worst of all, the city was stranded in that limbo for all the two days. We kept looking up to the skies and it was only on the third day that we heard the welcome roar of a plane, and soon after that, helicopters. We were living in the suburban area, far from the more populous downtown area. My children made occasional forays into the downtown area to check on things. They brought home eyewitness stories of the looting that was happening all over the city.

Some stories began floating around about a "group" from Samar who masterminded the looting, the Taclobanons did not start it, so the stories go, some outsiders were the ones who started it, or the prisoners released from jail. The looters brought trucks, jeeps, even cars, to cart away whatever they could--refrigerators, tv sets, washing machines, clothes, shoes, bags, computers--whatever they could find inside a warehouse or depatment store. It was like sharks in a feeding frenzy, and occasionally, we hear it told, the looters would kill each other inside a warehouse as they vie to get as much as they can of the coveted items, whatever that may be. The looters were not only the poor and the homeless, the middle class were visibly involved in it, with impunity and gloating at unprecedented opportunity to acquire for free what they had coveted for a long time. In the face of this, Taclobanons have their share in pushing their own city deeper into the mud.

Sunzibar Cafe and Canto Fresco's two units have all been invaded. Very small gleanings there. Ayo Cafe cannot be opened. All told, these little stores are down. So we only have our life--unharmed and for that we are grateful, praise God. Ayo, Sunzibar and Canto Fresco are in the respective brains of the owners and they can be transformed with a lot of will power and hard work into material reality. We are on our way to Dumaguete now where my son, Babbu and his family live. You will hear from us again. Thank you for your concern.

We would like to return to Tacloban. It had been our home more than twenty years. We have many friends in Tacloban. The most significant works of my life I may have done for Tacloban and the people of Leyte. We pray that they city finds its heart again and it will once again be a haven for its people.


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