Thursday, May 08, 2008

Typhoon

Once in a rare while, I like to bring my car to Washworld near our house for an automatic touchless carwash. "Like a spa for your car" according to their website. I drive to one of the car wash bays, choose a wash option, and sit in the car while powerful machines do their thing.

Yesterday, I chose the Typhoon wash. This includes a super soaker, a tire cleaner and undercarriage, hi-pressure wash and rinse, triple foam wax, etc.

So there I was in the car while strong water and foaming agents were bombarding the car on all sides and under. I always get a little claustrophobic during this time. "It's like being in a real typhoon--with soap," I told Gabriel afterwards.

I sat there and imagined how it must be like in Myanmar during the typhoon last week. That must have been very frightening. I wanted my wash to finish quickly.

My thoughts rushed back to the most terrifying typhoon I had ever experienced in the Philippines. We have had really extreme typhoons in that part of the world, but the one I remember the most was super typhoon Yoling ("Patsy") in November 1970.

At that time, we lived in an old sprawling cottage-type house inside the UP campus. Our house was made of wood and sawali (bamboo mats) and tin roof. When Yoling gained strength, we watched tin roofs peeling off and flying from our neighbours' homes, some G.I. sheets falling on our yard. When the typhoon became stronger and stronger, we took shelter under our dining table because our kitchen area was the only part of the house that had newer and stronger tin roof.

We had a big household. Aside from our family of six, we had my uncle's family of 4 plus some cousins and boarders. We must be more than 15 in all. Not everyone could fit under the table. My father leaned a big piece of plywood against one side of the table as added shelter and protection.

Outside, the winds were howling. Tree branches were breaking. Various materials were making a lot of noise as they dropped in our front and back yards. We could hear our own roofs loosening. We were huddled under the table. I was very terrified as I stayed close to my mother and father.

After what seemed to be forever, the winds died down. It was very calm. We were in the eye of the storm!

As you might see on satellite pictures, tropical low pressure systems like a hurricane rotates counter-clockiwise. They develop an "eye". As the eye approaches, the winds are very strong, and while the eye is overhead, it becomes clear and calm. As the eye moves away, the wind blows very hard again--in the opposite direction.

During that short period of calm, my father and the men checked out our house and surroundings while the rest of us remained under the table. We had lost parts of our roof. It was wet in the bedrooms. Our basketball hoop in the backyard had fallen on its back.

In a few minutes, the howling winds were back and we endured another frightening period of very strong winds and rain.

I can't remember how long the brunt of the typhoon lasted. It must be hours. Thank God we survived!

When the storm had weakened, we came out of our "shelter". We had lost most of our roof except for that in the kitchen and the adjacent bedrooms. Some sawali walls and screen windows were destroyed too. Our yard was a mess. The basketball hoop was up again, having been blown in the opposite direction after the calm.

As soon as the weather allowed, the men of the family started the process of cleaning up our surroundings. Our old tin roofs were blown away to wherever, but better galvanized iron sheets fell on our yards. These were collected and used for repairs. The destruction in our neighbourhood and campus was unlike anything that I had seen before. It was certainly the worst for our household.

According to my readings, Yoling caused more than 600 deaths. I'm reading now that in Myanmar the death toll could be as much as 100,000! Please help if you can. There are many humanitarian agencies collecting contributions.

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