A young girl sleeps in an evacuation centre in Cagayan de Oro. Photo: Shirley Kimmayong, World Vision.
A day after Tyhoon Bopha devastated the southern part of the Philippines, World Vision mobilised staff to assess the impact. I was part of the team.
We visited the cramped evacuation centres. Families had been forced to flee, their houses and livelihoods toppled by the strongest typhoon to hit the country this year.
Then I saw Clarissa, one of the miracle young survivors. She was looking at me while I was busy taking photos.
Clarissa is 11 years old, barely stands over two feet tall and can’t swim. She also survived a raging flood during the fury of Typhoon Bopha.
I only asked how she was and she gave me a full story on how she’d survived.
She said that at dawn on the day of the typhoon, her mum woke her up when it was raining hard outside.
When she went outside of her room, floodwater had seeped into their thatched-roof house up to her mother’s ankles.
Then Clarissa heard people outside screaming “Tabang” (Help!), and she begun to feel a sense of dread.
Her older sister grabbed some clothes quickly to wrap her baby, and Clarissa’s mum Anita told Clarissa to hold her younger sister Clara.
Anita said that they should cross to their neighbour’s two-story house because it had a concrete foundation and wooden walls. But a rush of waves met them when they opened their door.
They clung on to each other so that they wouldn’t be swept away. The water rose quickly and they were cold and wet.
Finally they were able to reach their neighbour’s house safely, where they found five families who had also evacuated there.
It was totally dark. Clarissa hugged her sister tighter because she knew Clara was scared.
They were all scared that the floodwater would not knock the house over. All of a sudden, a coconut tree fell, splitting the rooftop.
In what was the scariest moment, Clarissa got snagged by the coconut tree and she had to hold her arms tight around the trunk to stay on. She held on for her life, not wanting to leave her family.
Thankfully, a rescuer found her at that moment and freed her.
She rode on a truck along with other flood survivors to a gym which was serving as an evacuation centre.
There were so many survivors packed inside—all wet and cold. Many were injured and sobbing because they couldn’t find their loved ones.
Clarissa was overwhelmed when she found all of her family sitting there in that evacuation centre.
Clarissa had never learned to swim, neither had her siblings. Asked how she was able to pull through, Clarissa said it was probably her determination to live. “I just never let go of that tree,” she said.
Clarissa and her family are among 770,000 people displaced by Typhoon Bopha. You can donate to the Emergency Preparedness Fund, which helps World Vision respond to disasters.
Crislyn Felisilda is the field communications specialist for World Vision Philippines.