The Uninvited Wedding Guest

Chris Diaz ’03 Landed His Dream Girl, But Typhoon Haiyan Threatened to Ruin His Dream Wedding

Chris Diaz ’03 and Maya Argao were married on November 12 in Boracay.

Chris Diaz ’03 and Maya Argao met in 11th grade in Guam, got engaged in France, and planned their dream wedding for the Philippines. The globe-trotting couple planned every detail of their wedding, but didn’t count on one decidedly unwelcome wedding crasher—Typhoon Haiyan, which made landfall four days before the ceremony, devastating large swaths of the Philippines and leaving more than 6,000 dead.

Chris, who earned a BS in Computer and Information Science from the UO’s College of Arts and Sciences, met future wife Maya at their junior prom, when their respective dates made the unfortunate decision (for the dates, that is) to introduce them to each other. Chris proposed in 2011 at the top of the Eiffel Tower, in a manner that would make romantic comedy screenwriters jealous they hadn’t thought of it first.

“She had no idea I was going to propose to her,” Chris said. “The best part was I captured it on video. While we were on top of the Eiffel Tower, I asked someone to kindly take a picture of us, but really I had my camera on record mode. So while the stranger was taking a few pictures, I turned to Maya and asked her to marry me.”

With the engagement official, the next step was to plan the wedding—and with it, the wedding destination. Chris’ family had moved from Guam to California, while Maya’s was on the other side of the Pacific Ocean in Guam and the Philippines. The pair settled on Boracay, the Philippines island named No. 1 island in the world in 2012 by Travel + Leisure Magazine.

Two hundred miles south of Manila, Boracay is one of the top tourist destinations in the Philippines. The entire island covers just four square miles, much of which is picturesque beaches where tourists spend their time windsurfing, scuba diving, snorkeling, or sunbathing with a book in one hand and a cold drink in the other.

“We’d always wanted to visit Boracay, since we had heard—and seen pictures—of its beautiful white sand beaches and calm, crystal blue waters,” said Chris.

A worker on Boracay clears away damage from
Typhoon Haiyan.

Mere days before leaving for the Philippines though, things got a little cloudy—metaphorically and literally.

“We heard about the storm about five days before our flight to Manila,” Chris said. “Back then, it was still a small tropical depression, so we didn't give it much thought. However, as the days got closer, the tropical depression became bigger and stronger and we got a little concerned.”

With the tropical depression expected to hit south of Boracay almost a week before the ceremony though, Chris and Maya went ahead with the wedding as planned and left for Manila, well out of the path of the storm. But while the projected path of the storm remained south of Boracay and Manila, the storm did not stay a tropical depression for long.

The tropical depression quickly turned into Typhoon Haiyan—known as Typhoon Yolanda in the Philippines—the strongest storm ever recorded at landfall, with sustained winds of 196 miles per hour, 23 miles per hour faster than Hurricane Katrina. Hurricane-force winds extended 53 miles from the eye, and the central part of the storm was so large it dwarfed Texas in size. The Dvorak Scale, used to measure tropical cyclone intensity using satellite imagery, goes up to eight; Haiyan measured 8.1, making it stronger than the theoretical maximum intensity for a tropical cyclone.

Typhoon Haiyan slammed into the Philippines on November 8, steamrolling many of the nation’s islands before continuing on to Vietnam, China, and Taiwan. Hardest hit was the region around Tacloban, a city 400 miles east-southeast of Boracay. A 17-foot storm surge flattened Tacloban’s airport terminal, flooding extended more than half a mile inland, and the city administrator estimated that 90 percent of the city was destroyed; three months after Typhoon Haiyan made landfall, much of Tacloban is still without power. While the exact death toll will likely never be known, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council estimated it to be more than 6,200 in the Philippines alone.

Boracay only suffered a storm surge of 1-2 feet, and Manila even less than that, though Typhoon Haiyan still ensured that Chris and Maya’s carefully-made plans would have to be adjusted.

“We were staying in Maya’s sister’s small one-bedroom condo,” said Chris. “It was very tight since there were nine of us. The original plan was to spend just one night in the condo, then fly early the next morning from Manila airport to Caticlan Airport, where we would then take a boat ride to Boracay Island. However, Friday the eighth was when Super Typhoon Haiyan was passing Manila, so our flights got cancelled for two days.”

The damage from Typhoon Haiyan was readily visible during a trip to Puka Beach.

When the wedding party finally arrived in Boracay, they found the island in relatively good shape. While much of the area—including the hotel the Diazes were booked in—was now under generator power due to a lack of electricity, a mass cleanup had Boracay largely open for business.

“When we arrived on Sunday the tenth, we hardly saw any debris, broken homes, hotels, etcetera,” Chris said. “We talked to some of the workers there and they said they spent all day Saturday cleaning up after the typhoon hit. They did an excellent job cleaning up the place, especially the sand. The whole beach looked like the typhoon didn't even happen.”

The wedding itself went off without a hitch, and while the days leading up to it had their share of drama for the happy couple, the big day was as planned.

“The ceremony was beautiful—right on the beach with the beautiful ocean and sunset as the background,” Chris said. “Everyone seemed like they had a great time dancing, talking, eating and just hanging out. It was definitely a memorable wedding.”