Last November, Nenita Yap prayed for two days straight.
The Surrey nanny was praying not only for the safety of her family, but for news – any news – out of the Philippines.
The first trickle of information from the news blackout came on Facebook, but the short blip of “we’re okay” from one local source meant little in those early days.
There were 15 people crammed into her family’s home when the devastating Typhoon Haiyan hit Tanauan, a small town where “everybody knows everybody” on the east coast of the island province of Leyte.
Haiyan, a Category 5 typhoon, was one of the strongest tropical storms ever recorded. It slammed into Southeast Asia on Nov. 8, 2013, causing mass devastation – especially in the Philippines. It killed more than 5,000 people.
The day before the storm hit, Yap was reassured by her family over the phone that they had extra supplies and the concrete house was ready for what was coming.
“We thought it was strong enough to withstand the typhoon,” Yap told The Leader during an interview in Guildford.
Indeed, the concrete house withstood the storm itself, but there was worse to come.
Days later, Yap, on the phone and on the ground among the wreckage, would hear the same two words over and over: Storm surge.
“(Before the typhoon), we didn’t know what it meant.”
The rush of water that Haiyan unleashed plucked, one after another, 10 members of Yap’s family from the rafters of the house, including her mother Arnesia and second-oldest sister Editha.
Photo: Nenita Yap in her family’s neighbourhood, days after the storm.
“It was like a tidal wave,” she said, wiping away tears as she recalled the catastrophe.
“When I talk about them, I still get emotional,” she said. “It’s been exactly eight months.”
Yap’s brother Rolly was trapped in another – and ultimately spared – house in the town, and later helped with rescues and the recovery, while her brother José (Joe) remained at home, holding on to whichever relatives he could as the storm surge swept through the lower floors, finally collapsing the walls.
He helped Yap’s 13-year-old daughter Samantha survive with numerous scrapes and bruises, but José stills feels terrible guilt for being unable to save their 78-year-old mother, Yap said.
José, in a twist of fate, had arrived home just two weeks earlier after being employed in Saudi Arabia. Two weeks later, his children died in the storm as he watched.
Yap arrived in the devastated area a week after the storm. The landscape had changed and much of her family was gone.
“Everything was flat. All the landmarks were gone.”
While she was there, the bodies of several members of her family were recovered; others were to be found and buried weeks later.
As Yap tries not to dwell on the heartbreaking story, she has the support of Surrey’s Filipino community and her church, and has hope for a brighter future.
“I keep myself busy. I concentrate on the family I have left.”
Samantha, who is currently living in Manila, is expected to move to Canada this summer or in the fall.
Yap, who has been in Canada under the Live-in Caregiver program for the past 34 months, hopes to hear soon about paperwork allowing her and her daughter permanent residency.
In the meantime, she recently received a bit of good news.
On June 30, she won a scholarship through Sprott Shaw College at the Philippine Consulate in Vancouver for an essay she wrote about the typhoon.
The scholarship is worth about $10,000 and will fully pay for Yap’s seven-month Health Care Assistant diploma program at Sprott Shaw, as well as her books and student fees.
The course begins in August and will allow her to continue to work while she studies.
“This scholarship will help me a lot,” said Yap, who also wants her 16-year-old orphan niece to join her in Canada. “It will make me much more employable.”
At present, money from her caregiver job continues to flow back to her family in the Philippines.