Lieutenant Colonel Fermin Carangan is the Commanding Officer of TOG 8, the Air Force unit tasked to provide air support for the islands of Samar and Leyte. On the morning of Friday, November 8, he and his troops were in their office near the Tacloban Airport on red alert, having been informed of an incoming superstorm named Haiyan (local name: Yolanda). Here’s how he narrated his ordeal to Lt Col Allan Taguba, as Haiyan unleashed her fury on the city of Tacloban on that fateful Friday morning.
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We were out of the office at 6 am Friday observing. Winds brought by Yolanda were already strong around that time. We (the Air Force troops in Tacloban) were prepared for the possibility of rescue missions days before the expected landfall of Yolanda. Just before 7am, the rains started to pour, so we took shelter.
Around the same time, we noticed that water was slowly entering our office, so we went out again. Then suddenly, we saw that the water was getting higher and higher, until we were forced to get up the ceilings of the building. We had to bore holes on the ceiling just to get up there, and I was the last one up.
Suddenly the building collapsed and I saw my men falling into the surging water and very strong winds. There was also no more roof on top of the building. I was able to hold on to a piece of wood – a truss which I forcibly removed just before I was taken by waves and the strong current.
I didn’t notice that my two junior officers were now gone. Both were fresh graduates from the Philippine Military Academy, and they were beside me before we were swallowed by the water. Then I saw one of my soldiers trying to hold on to an uncollapsed wall of another destroyed building. I tried to reach for him but the current was too strong and there was confusion and hysteria.
I was going farther and farther out into the sea and all I saw were tips of coconut trees starting to disappear into the swelling water. Suddenly, I saw a child hugging tightly to a floating coconut tree. By a stroke of luck, the current led me to the child, and I was able to pluck him from his very unfortunate situation. He then held on to the piece of wood I was myself holding on to. Then we floated until we were out there in the middle of nowhere.
At sea, we went through another hell. We were slapped by waves, great big waves from all directions. We were also toyed by swirling winds. And we couldn’t help but drink a lot of salt water. I was now getting so tired. And so was Miguel (the boy’s name). He was just seven years old. Too young to die, I thought. I thought of my family. I prayed to God to take care of my wife and kids. I thought I’ve done to them what every father could – that is, to take good care of them.
I also thought of my men. Days before, I had told them to ensure the safety of their families, especially those in Tacloban since the city could be hit hard and everyone of us would be busy in the rescue missions after Yolanda. They might not have time to check on their families during the rescue. Then I thought of the two new graduates of PMA 2013. I thought that if something happened to me, at least I had been able to give professional and honorable service for a time. And that I’ve done enough since graduation. These two young guys were just starting and still have a very bright future ahead.
Then I looked at Miguel. He was trembling hard due to the cold. His very young body could not just cope up with the elements. He said, “Kuya [my brother], I will sleep now. I’m so tired already.” Then I thought, maybe I survived because of this child. Without him I could have given up. Maybe he’s the reason I’m still alive because God wants me to make sure this child will live.
I shouted at Miguel’s ears: “Don’t sleep! You can do it. Look, we are near land already.” Then I pointed at what I thought was another wall of swell, just to lift the spirit of Miguel. And then I realized that it was indeed the shoreline!! I thought there really is a Powerful Being!
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The two survived Storm Haiyan and the rough seas between Leyte and Samar during the onslaught of the typhoon. They floated around the bay near Tacloban airport and were eventually rescued along the shorelines of Basey, Samar at around 1pm the same day. They had been floating for around 6 hours before they were rescued. Basey and Tacloban are separated by the San Pablo and San Pedro Bay. The devastation they saw along the Basey shoreline is another story worth telling. Some of Lt Col Carangan’s men are still missing. These men were supposed to take part in the relief and rescue operations for Leyte and Samar. Alas, it turned out that they too would be the very victims to Haiyan’s wrath.