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2021 has been tough.

My dad and a close friend died one day apart and I had to do a very risky surgery and contracted COVID-19 from the hospital. When we thought we already had enough, the year had another surprise for us (hopefully the last) as my brother-in-law Mike and his wife, Brenda, were in Siargao when supertyphoon Odette hit the island.

It was their first time in Siargao. They were supposed to stay in a friend’s oceanfront villa in General Luna (GL) until the new year. But what welcomed them when they arrived on the island was a call for evacuation to the newly inaugurated Siargao Sports Complex. Thinking it was the best option, they hopped on the evacuation vans and traveled 40 minutes away from GL.

To cut the story short, it wasn’t the best move.

The sports complex was ripped open by the howling winds, and it started to crumble on top of them. What saved the couple was half a meter easement and a lifetime table which they had to hold onto for three of the most frightening hours of their lives. They slept on COVID isolation tents beside the sports complex when the winds died down. With their luggage stolen and supplies running low, they decided to walk away from the sports complex for 6 hours, relying on coconuts for sustenance. When they got back to their oceanfront villa, it was intact, along with their food supplies.

From there, they started planning on how to get off the island. People were scrambling in the port to get to the mainland, while others were waiting in the airport begging relief planes to take them back to Manila. Mike and Brenda paid a boatman $300 (about P15,000) for a ride to the mainland. There they had to take a bus to Butuan. On the way, they were able to contact us, and we were able to get them medical attention, hotel rooms, and a flight home.

But before that happened, we had no contact with them for three days. The last contact we had with Mike was on Dec. 16, and they were being evacuated at that time. That afternoon all communications were down. We started reaching out to them and friends who have connections on the island. We called all our possible contacts in the next two days, from presidential aspirants to our friends flying their aircraft to the island to deliver relief goods. We got them a ride back to Manila, but the problem was how to call them to be at the airport.

By Dec. 18, we chartered a plane for a search and rescue + relief operation out of desperation with a close friend, Seymour Saldavia of Standard Insurance, at the helm. He knows them, so we were confident. The team was supposed to leave Manila at 10 am on Dec. 19, but due to the weather, take-off was delayed. When the clock hit 11:59 am, we got a message from Mike, saying they were safe and on the way to Butuan.

Mike and Brenda on their way back to Manila

Survival bullet points

From Mike and Brenda’s experience (on the ground) and our perspective ( search party), here are some tips we wanted to share if you are faced with a similar predicament.

•To be prepared in any situation.

•Always make your hand-carry a go-bag- (food, clothes, water, a first aid kit, and a portable water filtration system, e.g., Lifestraw or tablets.

•Always check the weather in your destination the week you will be traveling.

•Have a Plan B. Get contacts of people you can call on in case of emergency. Discuss possible scenarios that would make search and rescue easier with a family member.

•If possible, bring a satellite phone or a two-way radio. We realized how important the satellite phone is during this situation. The two-way radio can come in handy when someone is injured, and another will need to call for help.

•Keep your money in a waterproof case and close to your body. Mike and Brenda’s luggage were stolen, so don’t put your cash in your bag.

•In the event you are caught in an emergency, inform a family member where you are being evacuated and when you move.

•When you find yourself in an unfamiliar place (evacuation center/ or chosen shelter), look for exit points and safe spots.

Living on coconuts

•Stick with a small group of like-minded people, think quickly, and execute your plan as soon as you agree. •Be comfortable; keep yourself hydrated and in tip-top form. You need to be alert, prepare for the worst so you can act quickly when required.

•Planning an exit. If you sense danger, follow your gut and move. Move away from the crowd. Continue to seek a way out or to get a rescue. If you need to walk or go to another area, make sure you have your go-bag and tools. Travel light.

So that I don’t close this year with this tone, let me share with you some of my key learning for the year. Life is too short and unpredictable, don’t let minor grievances reduce the time with your loved ones. My dad always told me to enjoy life without drama and baggage, to choose love instead of being right. Happy New Year to everyone! Let us pray that 2022 will be kinder to all of us!

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