BASEY, Samar, Philippines – Last week at the height of monster howler Yolanda, the heavy rain suddenly stopped and the wind died down in this fishing town facing the Pacific Ocean.
In the eerie stillness, townsfolk saw the sea recede by about half a kilometer, living fish flopping on the seabed. There was an explosive boom, and then they saw a wall of water about 10 feet high, like a dark storm cloud, roaring toward shore.
The first powerful wave crashed into the fishing village, followed by three more, washing away people, houses, the town auditorium and plaza. As of yesterday, local officials reported that the confirmed death toll in the town stood at 190, with at least 39 missing.
Basey residents believe they were hit by a tsunami rather than a storm surge, which devastated Tacloban City when Yolanda
battered the Visayas last week with wind speeds up to 315 kilometers per hour. There was no tsunami warning for Yolanda.
Townsfolk lament that Basey is not even on the map of disaster relief officials.
Edgar dela Cruz, 45, of Barangay Mercado, recounted to
The STAR the sight of what looked like a tsunami. During the strange lull in the typhoon, he went out of his house. Jinamok Island was a kilometer across the sea from his village, he said. The sea receded about halfway to the island.
“There was a kind of low black cloud moving toward us,” Dela Cruz said. “We heard a loud boom, like an explosion. And then we saw the giant waves… four giant waves… it was horrible.”
Their house was destroyed. He said he and his family escaped “with only the clothes on our back.”
Councilor Mansueto Delovino, a former mayor of Basey, said many others told similar stories of the apparent tsunami.
“The destruction was caused not so much by the wind but by the wave,” said Delovino, whose two-story house near the beach and town plaza was also destroyed.
Councilor Honesto Zeta said Basey was in dire need of help and relief assistance.
Mayor Egmidio “Junji” Ponferrada said that of the town’s 51 barangays, 19 were severely affected by the typhoon and more than 7,000 households need immediate relief assistance.
He said the first relief aid from the national government arrived only yesterday morning, when the Department of Social Welfare and
Development (DSWD) distributed about 4,880 food packs.
“It was not enough,” Ponferrada said.
Zeta’s daughter Hazel Zeta-Dy Tioco, a multinational pharmaceutical executive, is one of the Basey natives living in Manila who are lobbying for aid to be immediately sent to the town, pointing out that Basey has suffered as much as Tacloban City in Leyte.
“Basey is not even in the crisis map drawn up by the NDRRMC to identify priority areas for relief goods,” Dy Tioco said, referring to the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council.
Dy Tioco has purchased basic necessities and asked friends and relatives in Manila to donate relief goods through The Philippine Star’s humanitarian arm, Operation Damayan. The STAR team arrived in Basey yesterday.