Leah and her three kids were preparing for Christmas, not a typhoon, in December 2021.
“We were thinking this will be the first Christmas after the pandemic that the church will be open,” she said. “The kids are on vacation and excited. We have plans and hotel reservations for a Christmas-break vacation.”
December 16 is the start of Simbang Gabi, a devotional, nine-day series of Masses attended by Filipino Catholics in anticipation of Christmas.
“It should be the first day of the glorious celebration,” said Leah.
But December 16 was far from festive. Typhoon Rai (also known as Super Typhoon Odette) slammed into Cebu that night.
“There was an announcement that there will be a huge storm coming,” said Leah. “But sometimes it’s a bluff.”
No bluff this time. Odette was for real, causing widespread destruction.
“The sound of the wind was so scary,” she said. “No one can sleep. My bedroom is facing the street and we have a big, sliding glass door leading to the terrace, and I can see what’s happening outside. My biggest fear is there’s a big lamppost, an electricity post, and it’s literally shaking, and if it falls to my terrace, it will destroy the door, and I don’t know if we’re all going to die.”
Thankfully, Leah, her three kids — 17, 16 and 5 — and their dog and cat weren’t harmed in the storm.
And the main portion of her house survived the wind assault, but Leah’s kitchen extension, where she cooks spicy foods away from the living areas, wasn’t so lucky. The roof of that extension was ripped off.
“We were trying to find the roof, but we don’t know where it went,” she said.
Though the skies cleared, Leah’s ordeal was far from over. The HireSmart Virtual Employee, who works for a property management company in the U.S., had no electricity, no internet, no water. Her home didn’t get these back for a month.
“I needed to check into a hotel,” she said. “So I drove the whole city the entire day, and I can’t find any vacant rooms. I got frustrated. We camped out in the lobby of a hotel just to get electricity and air conditioning. After a typhoon it gets really dry. There’s no air. I have a toddler who gets so irritated if it gets hot.”
She heard electricity was restored in the northern part of Cebu.
“So I took the risk of driving three hours going there, and I found a hotel to check in,” said Leah. “It’s a resort hotel, and it’s kind of pricey, because the law of supply and demand.”
She was then able to communicate with HireSmart Virtual Employees and her client.
“We were running out of funds, because it (the hotel stay) was not budgeted,” she said.
But Leah’s stress level dropped dramatically when Anne and Mark Lackey, co-founders of HireSmart Virtual Employees responded with money to cover her hotel expenses. Leah didn’t realize HireSmart Cares would have her back in that way. It was unusual in the working world.
“It was really unexpected,” she said. “I know they’re going to understand what happened, but there’s a fine line between sympathy and empathy. You can have sympathy as in, ‘I’m sorry that happened to you.’ But then there’s the empathy of, ‘What are they needing?’ I’m lucky to have both from HireSmart.”
For Leah, the Christmas of 2021 wasn’t what she wanted or expected. But she did experience the warmth of a special gift that season.
“They feel for us, but they also offered help,” she said of HireSmart. “They value us. They could have just left us with nothing.”
Leah said HireSmart made sure its employees hit by the typhoon understood one important message.
“Take care of yourself and your family first, and we have it covered,” she said.