Reunited after the storm - Carizza Gaytos’s story

Publié: 29 avril 2014 15:01 CET

By Nichola Jones – British Red Cross

Carlito Gaytos was one of the first people to arrive in Tacloban after Typhoon Haiyan wreaked havoc on the coastal town on November 8, 2013.  

He came from Manila on the first commercial flight into Tacloban’s ruined airport, desperately searching for his 19-year-old daughter, Carizza, who was a medical technology undergraduate studying at St Scholastica’s College.

Carlito, from Salcedo in Eastern Samar, did not know whether his daughter was dead or alive when he registered her missing with the Philippine Red Cross on November 11. His story symbolised the plight of thousands of families separated from loved ones by the storm.

Six months later, the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) learned that Carizza was reunited with her family.

“My mum had begged me to go home when the typhoon was forecast but I didn’t listen to her – mums always worry and we’d been through typhoons before so I stayed in Tacloban,” said Carizza.

“On November 7, our classes were suspended and mum urged me to go back home again.  We argued and the last thing we said to each other was to be careful and that we would see each other soon.”

The night before the storm, Carizza was staying with her 83-year-old grandmother, aunt and cousins and had settled down to watch TV.

“We were all relaxed – we even managed to watch a movie.  But at 5am, I woke up.  The sound of the wind was terrifying – like a blower in my ear – and my aunt started tying the windows shut.”

As the typhoon swept across Tacloban, Carizza and her family were confronted with a torrent of water pounding their bungalow and were forced to make the split-second decision to flee to a neighbour’s house.

“The water was so strong and our shoes were getting stuck in the mud – at that moment, I was so scared because I can’t swim and I thought the water was going to take us.

“At that point I made a deal with God.  I said I was sorry for not listening to my mum and begged him to keep my family safe.”

Unknown to Carizza, her family had also survived Haiyan at the family home in Salcedo. As soon as the storm subsided, they made the journey to Tacloban in search of their daughter.  Carlito flew from Manila, where he had been working, while mum Nora made the perilous journey through the debris and destruction on a motorbike, frantic with fear that their eldest daughter had been killed.

As they were on route, Carizza was confronted by the horrifying aftermath of the Philippines’ strongest ever storm.

“There were cars on top of shops, the dead were in the street. I thought I was dreaming a nightmare.  And when I saw what had happened to my college, it felt as though my heart had been punched a hundred times.”

While Carlito was with the Philippine Red Cross at Tacloban City Hall, Nora had managed to find her daughter.  

“I hugged my mum so tight  - I was crying and asking for forgiveness.  I thought she would be so mad at me for ignoring her advice but she just kept saying that’s its okay, its okay.”

But with all communications still down, it was 24 hours before the father-of-three returned to their home in Salcedo to find his daughter alive. “My dad had walked back from Tacloban to our home, just with one bottle of water and a mango.  When we saw each other we hugged and we cried – I don’t often see my dad cry but that day was different.”

Six months later, Carizza is rebuilding her life.  She is now in the second year of a medical technology degree in Cebu and has recently completed exams.

“I am making a new start here, which isn’t easy. I miss my friends and Tacloban but I feel like I have been given a second life by surviving the typhoon and I have made an oath finish my studies and dedicate my future to helping other people.”