BOULDER, Colo. (CBS4) – When Simon Kurzban graduated from Boulder High School he decided to take a gap year instead of heading straight to college.
That time included signing up for “Volunteer for the Visayans,” a non-profit organization that works in the Philippines. That decision put him squarely in the path of Typhoon Haiyan when it hit in November 2013.
“Nobody really thought it was going to be that big of a deal,” Kurzban said. In fact, he was preparing to go home after having finished his volunteer work at the Regional Rehabilitation Center for Youth near Tacloban City.
“Some of them were in there for stealing bread for their starving baby sister and now have three years,” he said. “I was working teaching English, grammar and technical skills like welding.”
His host family had thrown him a goodbye feast a few days before Haiyan hit. When forecasters called for a typhoon, his host family and Filipino friends reassured him, saying they had several hit every year without much damage.
All that changed when Haiyan aimed directly at Tacloban City, smashing onto shore in the early morning hours of Nov. 8 as Kurzban slept in second floor bedroom.
“I thought I was still dreaming,” Kurzban said. “I woke up soaking wet. The noise was a howling like a billion wolves. It was the loudest noise but it was just the wind. That’s when I realized the roof was gone.
“I wrestled with the door, trying to get it open for about five minutes. I finally had to kick it. I could get out but I had to climb over all these walls, wood, corrugated tin.”
When Kurzban got out of his room, he headed downstairs to find the rest of the family and the extended family in the kitchen, all of the relatives gathered in the one home that had not been decimated by Haiyan.
That’s when the water started to rise.
“People were standing on the table, holding kids above our heads,” he said. “We decided to leave or we would drown.”
From there, Kurzban described a nightmare journey in the hunt for safety.
“The house is just waving back and forth because of the water running through the house from the front door to the back.
“It seemed like six feet of water going at a million miles an hour. My shoes got sucked off and we almost fell over a dozen times. We would have died if that had happened and we had the babies on our backs so that was even scarier because I like … can’t even think about what that would have been like.”
But Kurzban and the family managed to find a ladder and climb to the relative safety of the roof of the home.
There they waited anxiously for the typhoon to pass, a nerve wracking six or seven hours.