Featured Storyteller

PHILIPPINES: I Survived Tropical Storm Kai-Tak

Karen Quiñones-Axalan
Posted January 11, 2018
Photo ©: IFRC (p- PHL0171)

After her country was hit by three tropical storms in rapid succession, Karen Axalan reflects on the strength of women who livein disaster-prone areas.

“Yearly, an average of 20 typhoons visit the Philippines. In each year of survival, women become tougher.

My family and I recently survived the Tropical Storm Kai-Tak, while the rest of the Philippines got hit with two more. In a span of two weeks, three violent cyclones, namely Kai-Tak, Tembin, and Bolaven (locally known as Urduja, Vinta, and Agaton respectively) ruthlessly plagued different regions of the Philippines.

On December 17, Tropical Storm Kai-Tak, a slow-moving typhoon, affected an initial estimate of 244,000 families, causing around 29,000 families to leave their houses and stay in evacuation centers or at the homes of relatives with safer residences. Kai-Tak left the country with landslides, flash floods, and damages to infrastructure. As of December 19, around 50 casualties were reported, and 34 people were missing.

Not long after, and just a few days before Christmas, Tropical Cyclone Tembin, the 22nd typhoon to enter the Philippines in 2017, expelled an even deadlier wrath. It affected almost 168,000 families, reaping more than 250 lives. More than a hundred are missing. Many of our countrymen spent their Christmas Day retrieving the cold bodies of family members who were buried under muddy soil.

On New Year's Day, instead of celebrating with fireworks, many Filipinos were actively monitoring the arrival of Typhoon Bolaven, the first to threaten our country this year. It followed Tembin's path. As of this writing, it added two people to the rising death toll, affecting almost 8,000 families.

"The Filipino spirit is storm proof."

This is what we usually say to calm the whirling fear inside us. Surely, we know when to brace ourselves, and when to enjoy a cool rainy day. We are resilient, true. But we get exhausted, too. In fact, deep inside us we are worried about what another typhoon could do.

Early last year, our family moved to Tacloban City—the place that was mercilessly devastated by the fiercest cyclone recorded in the world: 2013’s Super Typhoon Haiyan. My husband, a development worker, secured a job here for the resettlement and livelihood sustainability of the homeless survivors.

Of the three recent storms to hit my country, our family was greatly affected by Typhoon Kai-Tak. My husband and I were prepared when this cyclone was approaching the city; however, we underestimated its intensity. It was almost stationary as it continued to increase its strength. Due to its unpredictable time of landfall, the possibility of storm surge, or a dangerous rise in sea level, was considered. The city disaster risk and reduction team advised us to evacuate.

My hands shook in fear as I hurriedly dressed my 4-year-old son and my 3-month-old baby. I gathered extra clothes, food, toiletries, utensils, gadgets, and chargers for packing. In that moment right there, I wiped my tears as I felt angry that I had to bring my children to Tacloban; angry that my children were being exposed to this danger. My fear was due to the fact that we were exactly where Typhoon Haiyan took place.

As a mother, my mind was already preparing for the worst. I was thinking about how it would be difficult to swim in a flood with a baby in my arms and about the dangers of hypothermia. But help was coming, and there was no flood in sight. I calmed down.

I began to ponder how troubled the women in disaster-prone areas are, especially during calamities. I felt their fear, their confusion, their anxiety. At the same time, I imagined their prudence, their fortitude, their gumption.

I thought of these women—the pregnant, the nursing, the menstruating—who deal with inexplicable discomfort in their bodies, yet selflessly fight for the survival of their children, siblings, or elderly parents.

I remembered the women with disabilitiesand mothers whose children have special needs. I thought of the extreme difficulty they face as they all together move to a safer place.

I remembered the women who just gave birth, whether naturally or through caesarian section. In both cases, these women are still in pain while getting up and braving the winds of unwelcomed weather.

My personal panic shifted to admiration for these women who had facenumerous storms in their lifetimes. Yearly, an average of 20 typhoons visit the Philippines. In each year of survival, women become tougher.

When our family arrived at our evacuation place, a two-story house, the floodwater was almost knee-deep. As I secured my boys on the second floor, my first instinct was to check the windows for our exit plan in case the water were to rise higher. I was worried because during the storm surge brought on by Typhoon Haiyan, sea water poured into the city, leaving even the two-story houses submerged.

At the height of the typhoon's wrath, I pleaded to God to protect women and their loved ones, specifically those living in flood-prone areas with houses made of lightweight materials. As I heard the blowing wind forcefully ripping apart the houses' roofs, with windows breaking, and dogs howling, I told God that if my children died in that storm, I would no longer fight to live. At the same time, I made a vow to use the little survival skills I have to keep them alive even if it costsme my life. I wondered how many mothers shared the same apprehension I had.

Then I remembered the news about mothers dying to save their children during flash floods, and the story of one mother who used her body as a cover to save her child when their house collapsed from an earthquake.

Together with their children, women are considered a vulnerable sector. But this does not mean they are weak, for they are capable of caring for others while dealing with pain of their own, be it physical, psychological, emotional, or the like.

Women in disaster areas are heroines in their own right. They are a blend of the brave and tender who carry the burden of securing innocent lives in their own vulnerable houses or inside noisy evacuation centers.

They feel afraid, too. But they put on a fearless front to ease the tension, tiredness, and trauma of their confused children.

They are hungry and thirsty, too. But they skip a few more meals and drops of drinking water to feed famished family members.

They get tired, too. But they offer their shoulders as pillows and arms as blankets to provide calming comfort in the midst of chaos.

These heroines are our mothers, sisters, and daughters during calamities. I have yet to grasp the perspectives of women rescuers or relief coordinators, nor the terror of the women who are molested or taken advantage of at evacuation centers. Even then, perhaps there is no greater horror than the sorrow of a mother holding a dying baby in her arms due to lack of access to basic supplies during disasters.

At present, I may not be given a platform to speak on behalf of the women living in disaster-prone areas, but I have my sons to raise. I will inculcate them with the respect and the rights that belongsto these women, and teach them to pay attention to their needs and protect them.

This year, the first of the expected 20 storms has already wrecked havoc in our country. It is somewhat terrifying that these typhoons will not stop coming, and they are becoming stronger and more destructive than before. As more cyclones approach in 2018, I wonder how many mothers in this side of the country are perturbed, yet prepared, to face another set of perpetrators.


This story was published as part of the World Pulse Story Awards program. We believe everyone has a story to share, and that the world will be a better place when women are heard. Share your story with us, and you could be our next Featured Storyteller!Learn more.

Comments 38

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  • Write more, Ate Kaye. Your words are like doubled-edged sword. God bless!! 

  • Thank you for going out of your way to leave a comment here, Yan. I encourage you to join World Pulse. I know you have stories to share. You write well, too. God bless!

  • Ngwa Damaris
    Jan 12
    Jan 12

    I feel so emotional that I can just start crying but I will not cry because there is hope for Mankind :)That is why I am calling on all women to rise up and fight Climate Change because these are the negative effects of climate change.let us move to a plant based diet so as to kill the animal farm industry.I am at the verge of creating a peace and green village; I will encourage a green diet and a green planet as part of our objective in this initiative.I feel your pain.It is well.we shall overcome

  • Thank you, dama2nv, for your emphathy and your call to action. I agree that Climate Change results into harsher typhoons and disaster. 

    Yes, we will overcome when we all work together. 

  • AMumbua
    Jan 13
    Jan 13

    Hey Karen, 

    Your story is extremely emotional and am grateful  that you and your family are safe,  i pray that you remain safe and stronger to face what is coming.  Be strong for your family as women do all the time.  As for climate change and its deadly effects, we should be part of the solution. 

  • Thank you for your encouragement, AMumbua. Yes, women remain stronger as we survive life's disasters (literally and figuratively). I agree that we need to be actively involved in the mitigation/adaptation of climate change. 

  • Elizabeth Gallo
    Jan 15
    Jan 15

    I see you writing for the world. Go Kaye!!!

  • Hello, Beth. Thank you. You can also write your stories here.

  • Hina Bhagat
    Jan 17
    Jan 17

    Hi Karen! :)

    This is a first time I read your post and believe me it really inspired me, your story is really remarkable. :)

    Sister you are doing well I appreciate your work keep going!! And God Luck :)

  • Hello, Dimple. I'm honored that you are inspired with this piece. Thank you for your kind words. They're empowering. I appreciate your encouragement.

  • sharann
    Jan 17
    Jan 17

    Karen, your story is very powerful because you remind all of us how strong women are and how determined to protect their families.  I believe that strength and dedication is what will change our world.  But we need to remember and celebrate how strong we are so that we can step forward and speak our truth.  And your story reminds us of who we are.  Thank you.

  • Thank you for acknowledging the strength and dedication of women, Sharann. I agree that our determination to protect our loved ones are to be celebrated.

    Yes, speaking our truth is important. It sure is liberating to share this story.  

  • mae me
    Jan 18
    Jan 18

    Hi Karen, thanks for sharing this story....we need to hold on and support each other for the benefit of the most vulnerable....God Bless

  • Thank you,  Mae Ann. We can influence society more when we work together. So sad that our country is facing another natural calamity. This time it is the eruption of Mt. Mayon.

  • pamela_2
    Jan 20
    Jan 20

    Karen, your story is powerful, a great reminder of how much respect women deserve. I have just lived through a wildfire followed by a mudslide on the California coast and I know what you say is totally true. I was scared to see the approaching flames but I knew in my heart that I would deal with whatever came. I am so sorry about the people who died, both there with you and here with me, but I believe they are in a better place now and watching over us.

  • Hello, Pamela. I'm so sorry that you went through a wildfire and a mudslide. I'm glad you are safe. Our country right now is facing another natural calamity. This time it involves lava and ashes as one active volcano is currently erupting. 

    Yes, it is always a sad moment when people die no matter what the cause is. Thank you for emphathizing. I hope all is well with you now.

  • Jan 25
    Jan 25

    This comment has been removed by the commenter or a moderator.
  • Tumanjong Miranda
    Feb 07
    Feb 07

    Hi Karen, your story brings a lot of goose bumps on my body... I felt chills when I went through your story... I pray God gives you more strength to fight on. It is well! 

    Thanks for sharing your story.

  • Thank you, Tumanjong. We really need prayers. Natural calamities are a common occurence in our country. 

  • sridevi k
    Mar 04
    Mar 04

    Dear Karen,

    My Sis,

    Profoundly encouraged to read your experience of grit and determination to fight all odds and help yourself and the rest of the folks Very motivational and inspiring. I pray  that the Almighty helps you abundantly to tackle any situation and come out successfully.

    Yours Sincerely


  • Thank you for reading and for your encouragement, Sister Sridevi.

    We surely find strength in the Almighty especially during the strongest storms.

  • Vivian Emesowum
    Mar 06
    Mar 06

    Emotional piece, but am glad you and your family are safe. indeed, i agree with you that In each survival, women become tougher and even stronger
    thank you for sharing

  • Thank you for reading, Vivian. I always wondered why women in this part of our country are relentless. I understood later that the storms they encounter make them stronger. I become strong with them.

  • Lily Habesha
    Mar 08
    Mar 08

    You are aw Mother.

  • Thank you, Lily.

  • Wendy Stebbins
    Mar 08
    Mar 08

    Yay, Karen. You are amazing

  • Thank you, Wendy. So are you!

  • EllenWingard
    Mar 08
    Mar 08

    What a profound story of bravery and grace. Thank you for your inspiration!

  • Thank you for reading and for your encouragement, Ellen.

    I get my inspiration from women in all walks of life.

  • Stella Paul
    Mar 08
    Mar 08

    Dear Karen, as a climate change journalist, I meet people battling disasters everywhere and I always salute their resilience and bravery. I am so touched by your own bravery and the way you narrated it all. I pray that by the time your children grow up, Philippines would have grown a safer place. until then, hold on to the hope and faith spirits in your heart. Thank you and love

  • Hello, Stella,

    Climate Change is real. As you said, disasters are everywhere. It is no longer just a topic to be discussed, but a reality in many places. Our country is one of the exhibits of its effects.

    We can see how the stroms are getting stronger than before, while our mountains and other natural resources are depleting so we have landslides, mudslides, flood and more. I hope the Philippines will be a safer place for the next generation.

    Thank you for reading and encouraging!

  • Beth Lacey
    Mar 15
    Mar 15

    This is an amazing story of courage, bravery and a mother's love.

  • Thank you for your kind words, Beth. We surely get surprised what we can do when we, along with our children, face challenging storms (figuratively and literally).

    Thanks again for reading. :)

  • Paulina Lawsin
    Mar 17
    Mar 17

    Thank you for sharing your story in behalf of survivors of Kaitak especially the heroines of families who have to make do with meager resources to keep their families safe and sane in times of disaster. For us in Leyte, it is a continuing struggle to make our communities prepared for disaster risks and adaptive to climate change. You write so well. Continue sharing your stories. I am just around.

  • Hello, Paulina,

    Where are you in Leyte? I understand the continuing struggle that is why I was inspired to write this piece. But above the struggle, I honor your strength, resilience and fortitude as survivors of multiple storms esp Typhoon Yolanda. My experience with Urduja gave me a glimpse on what it facing a storm feels like, but I could never imagine the horror you faced during Yolanda.

    Thank you for reading. :)

  • Paulina Lawsin
    Mar 20
    Mar 20

    I live in Palo. Just nearby. Am only a text away. Let’s meet up sometime.

    Mar 27
    Mar 27

    Your story is an example of the unending tales of womanity.
    Courage to you all and may God keep you, your family and all the brave women in Philippines save from these never ending typhoons.

  • Thank you for taking time to read, Arrey-Echi. My story is a humble contribution of women's unending tales. I appreciate your encouragement.