(UPDATE) The waves that washed away homes in Tacloban City seemed as if they were from a tsunami and not a storm surge, a local official on Monday insisted.
Tacloban City Councilor Cristina Gonzales-Romualdez also said residents would have been better warned by the term “tsunami” instead of “storm surge.”
“It was not a storm surge; it was definitely a tsunami,” Romualdez, who herself had to cling to life as seawater lashed Tacloban City, told the press in Makati.
The councilor, who is also wife to Mayor Alfred Romualdez, admits that she knows tsunamis are caused by quakes, but said the waves that hit them were similar.
“The water receded by about two to three kilometers from the shoreline before rushing inland. We didn’t see it but it was reported to us,” Romualdez said.
The Romualdezes, whose Tacloban City home faced the Pacific Ocean, took refuge in a nearby guesthouse even before strong winds and huge waves due to Yolanda.
But Romualdez said even the house, which they thought was sturdy enough, gave way to the storm’s wrath. “You can imagine that the winds were strong and angry,” she said.
The former actress began fearing for her and her children’s life when strong winds blew off the roof, and water came gushing almost up to the two-storey guesthouse’s ceiling.
“We had to cling to the trusses to stay alive and we stayed there for hours," Romualdez said, adding that her mayor husband was in another structure in the compound.
“My children were saying ‘Mommy, I don’t want to die.’ And I kept on telling them they’re not going to die… I just prayed and we sang songs,” Romualdez recalled.
She also said she “almost lost her husband” at the height of the storm. “He also kept praying. When the water receded, he began looking for us.”
Romualdez belied claims that her husband hid from his constituents after the storm, noting that the mayor personally supervised clearing operations in some areas.
“He even had to operate the bulldozer himself since wala nang driver na mahanap eh… We were there pero magpapapicture pa ba kami? Wala na pong pulitika,” she said.
The Tacloban councilor also lamented how rumors quickly spread about her demise. Romualdez however confirmed that some of her colleagues have yet to be accounted for.
She also appealed to the public not to judge survivors who reportedly resorted to looting in an attempt to feed themselves after the massive storm.
“Yes, there are looters but they get the supplies and share them. There are some bad elements but others are really doing it out of despair,” Romualdez said.
She even shared that her husband, who was only able to salvage the clothes on his back from the storm surge, also became beneficiary to some of the looters.
“My husband couldn’t find any pants but someone offered shorts from department stores. So at some point, even the mayor was wearing looted items,” Romualdez said.
While both storm surges and tsunamis cause huge waves that flood coastal regions, experts have noted that they are generated by different phenomena.
“A storm surge is generated by weather systems forcing water onshore over a generally limited stretch of coastline,” the Australian state weather bureau said.
A tsunami, meanwhile, “is generated by earthquakes, undersea landslides, volcanic eruptions, explosions or meteorites” and “travel great distances.”
Romualdez admitted that Tacloban City residents may have failed to appreciate the risks of a storm surge, due to lack of familiarity with the term.
“If you used the word tsunami, people would have gone up to higher places,” she said, adding that people of Tacloban “have never seen waves that big. ”
“This has not happened before,” Romualdez said, even as she noted that her constituents are used to typhoons since the city is visited by several in a year.
But the councilor said she is not blaming anyone for what could have been a miscalculation of risks. “No one could have foreseen such a disaster,” she said.
“If it happened in Metro Manila or any other city, I think the extent of the damage would be the same. It was not for lack of preparedness,” Romualdez noted.