Keith survives killer typhoon inside cargo container
PUBLISHED: 12:30 25 November 2013 | UPDATED: 12:30 25 November 2013
An Exmouth man who survived the deadliest winds of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines has revealed his incredible tale of survival.
Keith Wakefield, 61, lived in Exmouth for most of his life, and was well known as a local businessman, before moving to the Philippines more than six years ago.
He opened a school, teaching English mainly to nurses and doctors who wanted to work or live in English-speaking countries, in Tacloban City on the island of Leyte, and built a house for himself and his Filipino wife Elaine in the nearby town of Palo.
Unfortunately, this put them right in the path of Haiyan’s most deadly winds.
Officials believe thousands of people on Leyte may have been killed in the storm, while buildings and infrastructure were totally devastated.
Having spent days in the storm’s aftermath unable to contact the outside world, Keith and Elaine were able to reach a neighbouring island, let Keith’s family in Exmouth know they were alive, and reveal their horrifying ordeal.
Speaking to the Journal via Facebook, Keith said that on the morning of the storm, they had no idea about the devastation to come, or what he, his wife, four members of his family, and their dog would have to go through to survive.
He said: “On the day of the typhoon, it started raining very heavy and then started to get windy.
“We were not over-concerned at this stage. However, the wind started to get stronger, and some of the roofing was blown from the garage roof next to our house.
“I had built our house around the 20ft shipping container I had all my things delivered in from England. I did this so there would be a safe lock-up area to prevent things being stolen. Little did I know that this would save our lives.
“The wind started getting much stronger while we were moving things to the safety of the container.
“Suddenly, the front door was blown open. I managed to force it closed and was holding it while my wife and her brother and sisters were trying to hold things down and get things into the container, when the door flew open again, ripping it off its hinges.
“My adopted daughter was blown off her feet and thrown against the wall. I grabbed her and told everyone to get into the container.
“Within minutes the house was disintegrating around me as I struggled to get the container doors closed. I feared I had left it too late to save everyone.
“I managed to get the one door clamped shut and really struggled against the wind to close the other one. It was not possible to completely close the second door so I had to hold on to it for three hours as the storm raged around us.
“The others took it in turns to help me keep the door closed, with the strong wind constantly trying to rip it from our grasp.
“I could not let go for the whole three hours, for fear it would be forced open by the wind and we would all perish.
“As we waited it out, we could hear all sorts of things crashing into the sides of the container. We did not realize it was our entire house plus our neighbours’ houses hitting us. I feared that something would smash into my hands that were gripping the door. I managed to hang on till it died down.
“As the wind subsided but the rain kept pouring, I had a look outside and was shocked to the core to see every building had been damaged, most of them demolished like ours. Everywhere as far as the eye could see was total destruction.
“I then realised that a fellow English man and his girlfriend were possibly trapped in their demolished house, so I went and rescued them, bringing them back to the container.
“I then rescued our next door neighbour and his family and took them to the safety of the container. Fifteen of us remained in the container for about 12 hours, until it all calmed down.”
Having survived the storm, but seen his home destroyed, a couple of days later Keith walked the 12 miles into Tacloban City to see what had happened to his school, and discovered the true horror of what the storm had done to the island.
“As I walked through the debris, there were dead bodies everywhere. When I reached the town centre all the damaged shops, which had all been damaged, were being looted by mobs of people.
“I got to the school and found that the tidal wave that came with the storm had ripped through the building, leaving the ground floor covered in two inches of black slimy mud and destroyed everything in our office. All the desks, computers, and printers were all smashed. Fortunately, the classroom on the first floor was untouched.
“I then walked the 12 miles back, trying to avoid the areas where there were too many bodies.”
Although Keith and his family were among those who had lived, they still faced a battle in the following days to survive.
“For the next week, we tried to salvage as much as we could and dry everything, but it kept on raining. Food and fresh water started running out and we resorted to drinking the milk from all the coconuts that were on all the fallen trees.
“Finally, my wife and I managed to get a flight to the nearby island of Cebu that had hardly been touched to get food and supplies we needed.
“This is how I have managed to get an internet connection to be able to contact everyone.”
This internet contact was of great relief to Keith’s father Dennis, brothers John, Paul and Peter, and sons Mark and Richard, who all live in Exmouth.
Knowing that Keith’s home was right at the centre of the storm, they spent days not knowing if he was dead or alive.
John said: “We just didn’t know whether he had survived or he had died. We knew full well that they were in the full path of the storm.”
John is now hoping to set up an aid effort to get help to Keith, and is inviting anyone who would like to get involved or thinks they could help with this to contact him.
This is because, despite having lost everything, Keith has no intention of returning to Exmouth, where he formerly owned the Shoestrings seafront nightclub and swimming pool complex.
Instead, he is planning to help his new community recover from the storm.
He said: “When we left our home area, any form of aid had still not arrived, despite all the news propaganda about aid flowing into the country, but because of the corruption and slow bureaucratic incompetence most of the people who need help will never see much.
“This is why I need to stay here and help all that I can instead of running back to England and safety.”
To contact John, email email@example.com.