Firsthand Account of Typhoon Haiyan with Sebastian Makinson

Tacloban City, Philippines
Tacloban City, Philippines. Photo courtesy of Annie Bierbower


In the aftermath of Typhoon Haiayan, we sat down with Sebastian Makinson, a GoAbroad staff member who experienced the storm firsthand, and is now ready to share his firsthand account. Read on to learn more about the impact this storm has had on the Philippines and how you can get involved with relief efforts.

Be sure to also visit GoAbroad’s official Causes campaign for more updates about the situation in the Philippines and to make donations.


1. What did you think when you first heard about the storm? Did you take it seriously? Did you believe the reports about how strong it was supposed to be?

I took it seriously, but we definitely did not think it would be nearly as strong as it was. We bought some supplies and figured it would be like the dozens of other typhoons that hit the region every year.


2. When was the moment you realized the true severity of the situation and that it really was going to be as bad as the predictions?

About an hour into the storm when my roof started coming off I had the sudden realization that this storm would be worse than we ever could have imagined.


3. How did you prepare?

I bought some supplies, withdrew some cash from the ATM and bunkered down. In hindsight, we definitely did not do enough preparation.


4. Was there a strategy put in place for after the storm hit? Did you have any idea the office would become a refugee center?

Since we did not realize the magnitude of what was about to happen, we did not really plan anything other than we will all try and meet up after the storm. I figured the office would become a refugee center since that was the center point in most of our lives in the Philippines.


5. What made you decide to come home? Would you go back?

I would have loved to stay and help with the growing problems in the area after the storm, but I needed to go back to the states to get back to work and to let my family know all was fine. I would go back in a heartbeat, the Philippines is a beautiful place full of wonderful and amazing people.


6. How were you evacuated?

I was evacuated on a Philippine military C130 thanks to a friend who works for the Philippine government. We were put on a standing only flight in the cargo bay of the airplane, and an hour and a half later landed safely in Manila, the capital.


7. How did local Filipinos prepare? Did they heed the warnings or did they think it would be more like the two dozen other storms that hit the country every year?

Nobody prepared nearly as much as they should have, those who did prepare, prepared as if it were any other typhoon. To be fair, there is no way anyone could have known how to properly prepare for a storm like this since there has never been a storm like this. There were many Filipinos who had no idea there was even a storm coming. The Philippine government did a poor job at preparation and did not properly inform many of the Filipinos.


8. Describe when the storm hit. Where were you? How did you protect yourself?

I was asleep in my apartment when the storm first hit, we moved and prepared on the second floor since we figured there would be flooding. The power shutting off is what woke me up. We moved downstairs when our roof started coming off and bunkered down until we started pulling people in from the storm.


9. How did you pull people in from the street? Did you go out into the storm and offer protection or did people come to you? How many Filipinos did you take into your home?

We went out in the storm but only a few feet from our door. When the storm was about at its strongest we barely stepped a foot from the door because it was just too dangerous. It was mostly other Filipinos going out to save their families. By the end of the morning, there were 40 to 45 people in our little apartment.


10. How long was the storm?

The storm, from when I no longer felt safe going outside to when I finally felt safe going out again, was almost six hours.


11. What did you do afterwards? Where did you go? Was your house intact at all?

After the storm we fed and clothed whatever refugees were in our apartment and after they all trickled out we packed up whatever we could carry and headed for the GoAbroad office. Our house had lost its roof, but other than that, it was in very good condition considering. Two lovely Filipina ladies were so grateful we pulled them in from the storm and fed them that they even cleaned our floor.


12. Other than the lovely ladies that cleaned your floor, did you ever see any of the other Filipinos you sheltered again? Do you have any idea where they went?

I saw a few people here and there, I recognized them mostly because they were wearing the clothes we gave them. A lot of the people we pulled in had nowhere to go. There was one family of maybe 10 people whose house was washed away. As we were leaving our apartment, we noticed they had moved into the Jeepney (a jeep used for public transportation) in the alley.


13. Anything you would like us to know about your experience or what the Filipinos are facing right now?

It was intense, the whole situation down there is bad and is just growing worse. The Philippine government was unprepared and because of that, the Filipino people will suffer greatly.


14. What do they need the most right now?

The Filipino people really need food and water, but they need to just start rebuilding as well. The sooner they get an infrastructure in place the better off the people will be.


15. Do you think Tacloban City will recover?

Of course, eventually it will rise from the ashes, but it will take quite a while. The Filipino people are a very strong people and they will endure. The city though, will never be like it was before, and I fear it will never be the same city that I fell in love with.


Sebastian Makinson is originally from a small town on the coast of Washington State, graduated with a B.A. in Computer Science from the University of Great Falls, in Great Falls Montana. After two short term study abroad ventures, Sebastian caught the travel bug and wanted to travel more. When he was offered an internship in the Philippines, after graduating, he was all for it, and found one of the best jobs he could have hoped for. His free time is filled with video games, movies, and adventure.

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