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Chief Hospital Corpsman Weathers Super Typhoon During Iloilo City Family Visit

The memory of his father wasn't blown away, but all around him nearly everything else was.

As super typhoon Haiyan cut a destructive path across the central islands of the Philippine archipelago, Chief Hospital Corpsman Oscar Baldevia and his family were as prepared as they could be. Even that was not enough to stem the tide of the oncoming tropical storm.

"I was home for dad's funeral and we had gotten an early warning from the local authorities that this storm was coming. The coastal areas around here were evacuated, but no one was completely ready for this type of typhoon. It was so strong. The winds, the rain and the sea all combined to just overwhelm everyone. We saw trees flying past. It's amazing that no one in our area was killed," said Baldevia. Baldevia, stationed at Naval Hospital Bremerton, was in Iloilo City, Panay, to pay his last respects at his father's funeral.

When the typhoon, called Yolanda in the Philippines, slammed into Panay on Nov. 8, the winds were still well over 100 miles an hour with torrential rains that fell for hours. The aftermath was extensive flooding, impassable roads, and widespread devastation.

"We thought we were prepared, but I don't think anyone can really be ready for anything so powerful as this storm, and Iloilo wasn't hit nearly as hard as Tacloban on Leyte. It was like an A-bomb hit. Everything was leveled. Houses and trees were flattened and water had flooded everywhere. We weren't at ground zero like where it initially hit landfall on Leyte, but we really felt like we were close enough," Baldevia said.

The Iloilo City residents had been forewarned of the pending storm. Many people had rushed to the market to stock up on water and canned goods. But despite the official warning from the Iloilo City disaster risk reduction management council, the force of the tropical storm proved almost too much to handle.

"There were whole shelves bare, with everything on them gone. It really was panic buying," related Baldevia.

The tropical storm packed winds with gusts that reached 235 and brought tsunami-sized waves crashing into coastal regions of the Visayas, from Leyte to Panay and other islands. There are approximately 2,000 people feared killed already with that total expected to rise in the aftermath, and thousands left without food, water or shelter. U.S. military assets have mobilized to provide humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.

Baldevia stated that the initial onslaught of the storm began to be felt Friday morning. His family home is a two-story concrete structure, but most residents live in wood-constructed dwellings in the coastal metropolitan area of over 400,000. But even a concrete structure like the Baldevia household had every window blown out due to the high wind velocity. The heavy rain followed.

"From around nine in the morning to eight that night, we felt the storm. There was zero visibility. Everyone lost power. It was just crazy outside. The streets were flooded and full of debris. I didn't have to remind anyone to stay inside and that safety and security were our top concern," Baldevia said, adding that during that time, his chain of command did reach out to see if everything was okay and he was able to update them on his status as well as keep his wife informed. "She was scared for me and the whole family," he said.

Baldevia also used his medical training to help stabilize an elderly couple who were hurt and suffered wounds because of the storm.

Just as the storm impacted land and sea travel, scheduled airplane flights for Saturday were pushed back to Sunday. Baldevia's attempt to get to the airport turned into an obstacle course not only for him but others with flight reservations, as well as those without.

"I saw many trying to do the same as I was. Our house isn't far from the airport and we started to drive but due to the flooding and debris, we had to find a way around all the mess. It took a lot longer than we thought. There were a lot of people there trying to get to Manila for refuge from the storm and the needed cleanup," shared Baldevia, adding that the local government had done a good job ensuring the runway was cleared for takeoff and landing.

"The airport will be a focal point of any relief effort. It was good to see that it was ready to go," cited Baldevia.

Once back stateside, Baldevia did get in contact with his mother, Erlinda. Although the waters are starting to recede, there is still no power and limited supplies of food, water and medicine for those in need. The concern of everyone now that the storm has passed, the rains have subsided, the sea calmed down is that some semblance of normalcy might be achieved.

"I was relieved I got to talk to them. It's still bad, but help is getting there. Everything is delayed. Routine tasks are very hard. All roads are still blocked. Helicopters are the best and most effective way to get around," shared Baldevia.

On his flight to Manila, the scene out the airplane windows in both directions gave a birds-eye view of the destructive power of the storm. Baldevia attests that it looked like everything had be wiped away and replaced by standing water.

"And we weren't even the worse hit. It's also going to be hard to get to all the outlying areas," said Baldevia.
When conditions improve, Baldevia's mother will head to the final resting site of her husband and assess if any storm damage occurred at the burial place.

Her son won't be there in person to assist, but he will be there in spirit, because not even a super storm can blow those strong feelings away.

For updates on the Typhoon Haiyan relief efforts, click HERE.

For updates on the Navy's involvement in Operation Damayan, click HERE.