By Danny Petilla
PALO, Leyte – Venus Palacio never really liked her attic. But the room she thought was a useless part of her dream house became her family’s lifeline as it saved all nine members of her family from Typhoon Yolanda’s killer waves on Nov. 8.
“On that fateful day that could have been our last day on earth. That room was our refuge and salvation,” said Palacio, a 58-year old grandmother who works as a disbursing officer at the local Department of Environment and Natural Resources in nearby Tacloban City.
Close to a month after one of the worst storms in history killed nearly 6,000 residents here in Leyte and Samar, most survivors point to the attic as the one place that saved them from Yolanda’s quick rising floodwaters.
Not really known as an important part of Filipino houses, the attic is used more as a buffer zone from the elements and a storage room. But at the height of typhoon’s fury, many residents cramped themselves in their attics thus shielding them from the 20-foot storm surges spawned by Yolanda.
“ I never really liked that room to tell you the truth. I never went there. But I am thankful it saved my family,” said Palacio, whose name means palace in Spanish.
It was not only humans that got saved by escaping in the attic, some animals also found a sanctuary there from the monster waves.
When Christina Romualdez , a former actress, told a Manila TV station that hiding in the attic with rats saved her family from Yolanda’s wrath, the wife of Tacloban City Mayor Alfred Romualdez and now Tacloban councilor, also magnified the importance of the attic as a lifeline for thousands of storm survivors.
“If she (Romualdez) was swimming with rats, we were swimming with snakes and frogs,” said Lea Sevilla, 59, a medical technologist whose family was also saved by climbing and hiding in their attic in their house in Barangay Cogon here.
But not all houses here have attics. The absence of attics in the mostly nipa thatched houses along the coastlines here proved fatal for most of the poor residents here.
Dioscoro Olaya, Jr., a 36-year-old driver, his wife Marisol, 30, and their three children: Analou, 12, Jeric, 3, Julianne, one –year-old and their stepfather Adan Hingo, 61, were all swept to the sea and drowned by the giant waves.
“I don’t think it would have saved them,” Olaya’s father Dioscoro Sr. , 58, said, in Waray. “Even with an attic they still would have been killed,” he said ruefully.
The attic is known in popular culture as the hiding place of Jews escaping the marauding Nazi storm-troopers during World War II. But at the height of the killer typhoon(international code name: Haiyan), most survivors had no choice but to hide in their attic to escape Yolanda’s rampaging floodwaters.
But the Yolanda survivors offer a different meaning why the attic was the refuge of choice.
“Maybe God wants us to look up again,’’ Palacio said as she clutched an image of Our Lady of Fatima, the object of her family’s frantic veneration in her attic as Yolanda unleashed her lethal assault on that fateful early morning of Nov. 8.
“We have forgotten God that we hardly look up anymore,” Palacio said.
(Editor’s Note: The author was a reporter of the Philippine Daily Inquirer before he left for the United States 22 years ago. He was a recipient of several journalism awards, including first place in the 1990 Jaime V. Ongpin Awards for investigative reporting with his series of articles on “Samar: An Island in Agony.”)