Surviving the Super Typhoon Yolanda through Faith


“I uttered a prayer to God to let me be held to that papaya tree.”

The heartbreaking tragedy that hit Tacloban City left many Filipinos mourning for friends, families and relatives whose lives were lost during the storm surge. Many accounts of survivors unfolded.

One of the most fascinating story is that a “kababayan” survived just clinging to a fragile papaya tree. To my surprise, this survivor is one of my lost acquaintance.

Arlene Verona, 34 years old from Tacloban City recounts her survival from the super typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) who clung to a papaya tree for dear life. This is her story:


“As the storm surge happens, we were still at our house as my father refused to evacuate. The reason is that, for so many times that storms had passed, our house stood still.   The storm stated around 5 in the morning. It continued as the wind blew even harder.

I am looking outside the window – worried because they are currently fixing the drainage and half of the roots of the coconut tree were on the ground. I saw when it shook to where I was standing. I instructed my family to move to the kitchen area. I am anticipating that it will fall into our house. At that time, the roofs were flying like papers; houses being smacked and woods were breaking. I immediately went to cover and we decided to take heed under the sink.

That storm is different from any other typhoons that we came across. My brother and I were texting. Updating him of what is happening to us. They were already in in evacuation center in Sugod, but there is no flood.

My sister called out our attention shouted that the water is already inside the house. We immediately emptied the water containers for everyone’s keep. As we hurriedly ran outside, the rush of water welcomed us. As we were running, I looked back and saw my father still closing the gates. I shouted for him to stop and just leave because he cannot do anything about it.

He insisted to lock the gates and my brother grabbed him leave the gates. As I was running, a splash of water smeared by eye. I barely see where I was going. There is a mini truck that is parked nearby. I immediately hopped at the back as I waited for the water to go up. People were shouting and all houses submerged before my eyes. Most of the people drowned while running away from their houses to main roads.

From the mini truck, I see roofs flying like papers. I saw my family together with other people, were waiting for the gate to open at a nearby apartelle. I was relieved, so I thought. The truck I was on turned over. I jumped on the waters together with the houses, roofs and woods.

It was too late when I noticed that I am already far from where I was washed out. I saw a walled vacant lot and saw a papaya tree. At that instance, I uttered a prayer to God to let me be held to that papaya tree. The gates were open and flood water swirled me inside like I was being guided to the papaya tree.

I curled by legs and an arm to the tree while my other arm I held the water can for protection from the flying roofs. Flood water is going at a rapid phase. All throughout, I am praying that the water would subside.

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With only my head visible, with no one at that place, people  from the 3rd level of the house cannot do anything but to watch me hang on to my life.  Only prayers I can do at that moment because if that storm would continue much further, I will surely drown. Feeling a bit scared, but it was my trust in the Lord that saved me.  The papaya tree is already shaking as the wave go about in different directions. I just held tight.

“Kakababa kakababa ng baha, nauusal ko, salamat po sa Dios.”

 [As the water began to quiet, I uttered my gratitude to God.]

When it did subside and people found me, I’ve gotten weaker because I had poured it all hanging to a tree.  After an hour in the rough waters and an excruciating 20 minutes clinging on the papaya tree, possibly be drowned at that moment, a prayer to God is all I can do and although dying occurred my mind, my trust with the Lord prevailed.  That trust I envisioned. I trust the Lord He would protect me.

One of the people who rescued me is a friend of my brother who had seen me hanging on to the papaya tree. When they had brought me I even made an animated gesture greeting them. They are really glad that I had passed that storm without being hurt. There, I have seen people whose wounds were cut open. You can see through and bloods everywhere. We cannot do anything because even hospitals were washed out by the storm.

Her father Arturo, brothers Christian who is at another evacuation site and Arturo Jr., sisters Ibe and Maria Theresa with her month old daughter, baby Shang Shang had also survived the super typhoon.


“It was only after the storm surge that I clearly realized the disastrous picture that left the people of Tacloban. People were looting. No one cares and everyone was in search for food. Even the nearby town who is not badly affected also looted.

We knew that the owners let the people take everything. There were dead bodies lying everywhere. Identified corpses were claimed by families and relatives. My heart goes to those buried, together with the pile of wrecked houses and buildings.

Corpses were only removed after a week. The decayed bodies prevailed the town. The smell of dead body is different to that of dead animals. We always wear masks because of the smell makes us puke. Whenever we go out, we would ran because we cannot tolerate the smell of the decayed bodies laying around.

I don’t fear dead ones, but I cannot help to think that it was God’s will that it happened. People are so drawn into worldly things. They love to drink liquor. You cannot see restaurants that is not full of people. Parades of the graven image which they love to do even there is no occasion at all. They say that it is their vow.

It took us 9-10 days to make it to Manila. There were no means of transportation. The only thing that we want to do is to give thanks to God for this another chance of life.”

On December 14, 2013, together with other survivors, arrived at the ADD Convention Center in Apalit, Pampanga.

sis arlene
Arlene Verona, a survivor of the super typhoon Yolanda

Bizarre, but come to think of it, while everything is being washed off by the super typhoon, a fragile papaya tree and a woman that only clings to mercy, is something to ponder.

The name of the Lord is a strong tower; The righteous run to it and are safe.”

— Proverbs 18:10