Almost a week after Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) struck the eastern-central Philippine city of Tacloban, Irene Icao, 27, is still very emotional as she recalls in vivid detail the last seconds of the lives of her five children: Russel, 8; Joji, 6; Kent, 5; Mayjoy, 2; and one-year-old Sherly.
Over 2,000 people died in the storm and more than 500,000 are displaced. Her story is every mother’s worst nightmare.
“We tried. Oh how we tried. But my husband and I just couldn’t save them. It happened so fast. As the wind howled outside, I could barely hear their cries.
“I held the baby close to my chest as the other four children clung to my husband’s legs screaming. They couldn’t swim.
“Then within seconds, water began surging into the room from the sea and our house began to disintegrate. The water was above our heads and debris was everywhere.
“'Mama, Mama,' they screamed, as we were swept outside, but I was powerless to do anything. The water was too strong.
“I could hear myself screaming to my husband. ‘Don’t let the children go. Hold on to them. For God’s sake, don’t let go of them.’
“But he too was helpless. It was simply too much.
“Suddenly, I was forced below the water and when I resurfaced my baby was gone.
“Then within seconds my other children's screams stopped and there was nothing but silence. They had disappeared beneath the water and were gone. I lost all five of my children.
“My loss? How can I explain it? I’ve lost everything. Everything I cherished. My babies are gone. My little angels. What have I got to live for?
“Earlier today, they found one of my children’s broken bodies among a number of other bodies down the street. It’s in a bag now, but I can’t look at it. It’s too much for me. There are body bags everywhere and the stench is suffocating.
"I want to leave this city. There is nothing left for us here.”