Fabulous Philippines > Yesterdays in the Philippines > Chapter 6(f)


The Coming of the Typhoon. Violence of the Wind. The Floods Next.





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September 20th.

There has been no opportunity to start letters off for the other side of the globe since the early days of the present month, on account of a typhoon which has visited our fair capital, and which has so delayed steamers that all connections seem to have been scattered to the four winds. I have long been waiting to become acquainted with one of these aerial disturbances, and at last the meteorological monotony has been broken.

Early in this eventful week, warnings came from our most excellent observatory, run by the Jesuit priests, that trouble was brewing down in the Pacific to the south and east, and by Friday signal No. 1 of the danger system was displayed on the flagstaff of the look-out tower. The news about the storm was indefinite, but the villain was supposed to be slowly moving northwest, headed directly for Manila. Saturday up went signal No. 2, and in the afternoon No. 3, and by evening No. 4 Still everything was calm and peaceful, and Sunday morning dawned pleasant but for the exception of a dull haze. Early in the afternoon up went signal No. 5, which means that things are getting pretty bad, and which is not far from No. 8, the worst that can be hoisted.

Everybody now begun to get ready for the invisible monster. All the steamers and ships in the river put out extra cables, and the vessels in the Bay Exeter anchors. No small craft at any kind were permitted to pass out by the breakwater, and later navigation in the river itself was prohibited. Still everything was calm and quiet, but the haze thickened and low scud-clouds began to sail in from the China Sea. Shortly after tiffin at our residence by the seaside, our gaze was attracted by a native coming down the street, dressed in a black coat with shirt tail-tails hanging out beneath, and wearing white trousers and a tall hat. He carried a decorated cane, wore no shoes, and marched down the centre of the street, giving utterance to solemn sentences in a deep musical voice. In short, he was the official crier to herald the coming of the typhoon, and as he marched along the bells up in the old church beyond our house rang out what poets would call "a wild, warning plea."

The natives opposite began hastily to sling ropes over the thatch of their light shanties, and one of the Englishmen who lived not far back of us had already stretch good solid cables over the steep-sloping roof of his domicile. A sort of hush prevailed, and then sudden gusts began to blow in off the bay. The scud-clouds increased and appeared to be in a fearful hurry. The roar of the surf loudened,, and one after the other of our sliding sea-shell windows had to be shut and bolstered up for precaution. The typhoon seemed to be advancing slowly, as they often do, but its course was sure. Our eight o'clock dinner-hour passed and the wind began to howl. Before turning in for the night, we moved out of our little parlor such valuable articles as might be most missed if they decided to journey off through the air in company with the roof, and later tried to sleep amidst a terrific din of rattlings. But slumber was impossible. Our house trembled like a blushing bride before the altar, and for the triumphant music of the " Wedding March" the tin was suddenly stripped off our rain-shed roof like so much paper. And the racket! Great pieces of tin were slapping around against the house like all possessed; the trees in the front garden were sawing against the cornices, as if they wanted to get in, and the rush of air outside seemed to generate a vacuum within.

At 3 A.M. things got so bad that it seemed as if something were going to burst, and my chum and I decided to take a look into the parlor before seeking the safety of the cellar. No glass would have withstood the gusts that came pouncing in from the Bay, but our sea-shell windows did not seem to yield. The rain was sizzling in through the cracks like hot grease when a fresh doughnut is dropped into the spider, and the noise outside was deafening. As our house seemed to be holding together, however, we gave up going to the regions below, and turned it again, thankful that we were not off on the ships in the Bay. Now and then the wind lulled somewhat, and blew from other quarter, but by early morning came some of the most terrific blowings I have ever felt, resulting from the change of direction. Down came all the wires in the main street; over went half a dozen nipa houses to one side of us, and "kerplunk" broke off some venerable trees that for many years had withstood the blast. The street was a mass of wreckage, as far down the eyes could see, and few signs of life were visible. During the rest of the day the wind blew more fiercely, but from the change of direction it was easy to see that the centre of the typhoon was passing off to the northwest.

I sallied out later in the afternoon, dressed in not much more than a squash-hat, a rubber coat, and a pair of boots, whose soles were holy enough to let the water out as fast as it came in. It was as much as one could do to stand against the blast, but I managed to keep along behind the houses, cross the streets, and reach the Luneta, where all the lamps bent their heads with broken glass, and where the huge waves were flying far up into the air in their efforts to dispose of the stone sea-wall. The clumps of fishing and bath houses which stood perched on posts out in the surf were being fast battered to pieces, and those which were not minus roof and sides were washed up into the road as driftwood. The natives were rushing gingerly hither and hither, grabbing such logs as they could fined, while some of the fishermen's families were crouching behind a stone wall watching their wrecked barns, and sitting on their saucepans, furniture, and babies to keep them from sailing skyward. The surf was tremendous, the vessels in the bay were shrouded in spray, and several of them seemed almost to be ashore in the breakers. A steamer appeared to have broken adrift and was locked in the embrace of a Nova Scotia bark. But everything comes to an end and as night drew on the winds and rain subsided and comparative quiet succeeded a season of exaggerated movement and din.

The typhoon was wide in diameter, perhaps two hundred miles, and so was not destructive like the one that laid Manila low way back in the '80's. It seems that the larger the diameter of one of these circular storms, the less its intensity, and although the wind at any given time is moving with tremendous velocity within the circle, the whole disturbance is not advancing at a pace much over a dozen miles an hour.

After the typhoon came the floods and the old Pasig covered the adjacent country. The water concealed the road to the up-town club at Nagtajan under a depth of several feet, and one could without difficulty row into a billiard-room or play water-polo in the bowling-alley. Two of my friends were nearly drowned by trying to dive when they should have swum or gone by boat. The pony walked off with their carriage into a rice-field, in the darkness, and was drowned in more than eight feet of water. The boys only crawled out with difficulty, and just managed to reach "dry-land"(that with three feet of water over it) in the nick of time. As it was, one of them practically saved the other's life, and has since been presented with a gold watch, which does not run.

One of the bank-managers was to give dinner-dance at his house next evening, to which everyone was invited, when word came that his bungalow could only be reached by boats, and that the festivities would have to be put off until the parlor floor appeared. To the north, where the actual centre of the typhoon passed, the railway was swept away, the telegraph line that connects with the cable to Hong Kong torn down, and the country in general laid under water. But the show is now concluded, and business, which has been paralyzed for a week, once more starts up with the coming of the cablegrams.


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