Typhoon Yolanda: A Nail-Biting Escape!


First thing this morning, Kelly (the IMC Logistics Specialist) and I headed over to the EVMRC (Eastern Visayas Regional Medical Center) so I could introduce him to the Department of Health logistics folks. They were so well organized that despite working without any lights, they had inventoried all of their supplies and put it in an Excel spreadsheet. That may seem like to big deal but the supplies were in individual bottles overflowing from cardboard boxes stacked all around the dark rooms. The counts had to be done by flashlight even during the daytime. Kelly was able to copy it on a thumb drive. It was impressive! In the midst of all of this, the people that had lost so much were still striving for excellence and giving their all. It is so powerful and life changing to see people who realize that, despite their tremendous loss, they have the power to make a difference and the passion to put other people first.

Today, we teamed up with a search and rescue team from Malaysia and we held clinic in a church located in a barangay named Santa Fe. The Malaysians, headed up by K.C. Chia, were fantastic to work with. Mr Chia had a great sense of humor and a contagious laugh. He would introduce himself as "K.C. CHIA" with a very strong emphasis on the CHIA! We saw about 280 patients before we were absolutely rained out. When it rains here is a soak-to-the-bone, wring yourself out kind of experience.

I was invited to eat dinner with Phillip this evening. The Mayor of Tacloban (and Phillip's first cousin), Alfred Romualdez, was there. Imee Marcos, the Governor of one of the Northern provinces was there as well. In retrospect, I believe that my trip here was delayed specifically so that I could attend this dinner with these specific people on this specific day. Phillip asked me to present the information that I shared with him last night about victims, manipulators, bystanders and thrivers. These are some of the concepts that I share with corporate audiences when I teach about performance under pressure. They all received it enthusiastically and it lead to a thought provoking discussion about what had happened since the typhoon. It was the first time that Mayor Romualdez was able to tell his story about what happened to him during the typhoon. His family was in a different building about a mile away while he was with fourteen of his staff and consultants. They thought that they had more time. As he walked into a room, he just passed a gigantic glass door about 30 feet wide when it exploded and shot across the room as the sea water came flooding in. He was next to a pillar when the massive glass door on the other side of him exploded and blasted across the room. One foot in either direction or he surly would have died. Seven of his men went out the side door and he thought that he would never see them again. He and his remaining men used a knife to cut a hole in the ceiling and they boosted a couple of guys up and then those guys pulled the rest into the ceiling. The Mayor led his team as they scurried across the rafters to a support beam and held on for dear life. They grabbed the beam and within seconds the entire far wall collapsed. Looking out through a missing section in the roof and then turning and looking out where the wall used to be, he realized that while they were suspended in the roof, they were completely surrounded by water. He described a peace and calmness as he held on for over an hour and a half. With tears streaming down his cheeks, he closed his eyes and began to sing a worship song over and over again. When he looked up again, the water had begun to recede. They were able to lower themselves from the ceiling and immediately headed off to check on the Mayor's family. Although the water had begun to recede, the winds were still in full force. One of his security guards took off his motorcycle helmet and gave it to the Mayor. After putting on the helmet, the Mayor, followed by his men, headed out. The sustained winds were some of the highest in recorded history at 195 MPH with gusts even higher! Pressing on, they were assaulted by flying debris. The sheet metal roofs were especially dangerous. It was like walking right through the middle of a sword fight. At times the winds nearly knocked the seven of them down. They crouched down and darted from one obstacle to another, taking cover behind them as they rapidly plotted their next move. As they made their way one treacherous step at a time, they encountered multiple dead bodies lying contorted along the road.

Meanwhile, his family was fighting to stay alive. They had just got in the car to leave when the water hit their car. His wife was wearing a life jacket but their daughters thought that was silly so they didn't want to wear them. They had just got in the car when the water blasted around them. The car began to float and spin around. Two of the security guards jumped out of the car and were swept away and were eventually found over 3 miles away at the Astrodome. The Mayor's wife and children were able grab onto the pillars and hold on. Their driver put his arms around one of the girls and held her onto the pillar as the current swirled around them trying to rip them away. With a mother's determination, his wife swam and got the lifejackets for their daughters. She also talked about the intense calmness that she experienced. What she couldn't see from where she was were the five large palm trees had fallen over the roof. Rather than crushing the building, the trees held the roof on like fingers from the hand of God! It was a jaw dropping site. Roofs gone all around them, yet they were safe! She told the girls to hang on because their Dad would come and get them in a boat. Little did they know that their Dad was fighting his way on foot through a war zone of flying debris. As he fought his way down the street, the Mayor burst into celebration as he saw his wife and children safe and sound. Survivors reunited!

After taking his family back to safety, the Mayor went back to work. He went back to the government motor pool and found a car that still worked. It was the senior citizen's van. He then drove to where there was some heavy equipment and got in one of the large tractors with a bucket on the front. His plan was to clear the road from the airport to the city center so that relief workers could get to the city. The road was piled high with rocks, trees, roofs and cars. He rallied some other workers and at about 9 am they started clearing the road. When the workers wanted to take a break, the Mayor encouraged them to press one, "We can't take a break; people are dying!" Miraculously, they cleared the way in only six and a half hours!

It was so moving to hear him share is story and see the power of a man of integrity under fire. He clearly believed that he could make a difference and he had a passion to put others first.

This evening, the Mayor asked me to come and speak to all of his department heads and share with them the concepts that I share with corporations about performance under pressure. What a privilege! I can't believe that I will have the opportunity to share with Mayor and his staff! I believe that this is actually the reason that I was delayed on this trip. God had reason to delay me and I believe with all my heart that this is it. I just can't believe that He would use a small town guy half way around the world to deliver this message of encouragement. I am so blessed!

When I ponder the Mayor and his response to the disaster, it challenges me. Countless lives were saved because he rolled up his sleeves and got dirty and the job done. He continues to lead with passion and purpose despite the intense challenges of getting an entire city back on its feet. If we focus on victims we can easily become comfortable and come to the conclusion that "well, at least my life isn't that bad". When we focus on heroes like the Mayor it can make us uncomfortable as we ask, "If he can do all of that in the midst of those horrible conditions, what I'm I doing? I need to get out and change my world. I need to take risks and get involved. Stop and ask yourself what you would do if you were in the Mayor's shoes. Seriously. You know, you could face a major disaster at some point. It can happen to any of us. However, perhaps a more relevant question to ask yourself is how are you living now in the midst of the challenges that you are facing today. How we live our lives has a huge impact on those around us. I would love to hear your thoughts.