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Philippines: In the land of fallen coconut trees and floods…

20-02-2013 Feature

Based in Eastern Mindanao, the area of the country most devastated by typhoon Bopha (locally called Pablo), communication delegate Marie-Claire Feghali shares her impressions in this latest update from the field.

It had not stopped raining since Sunday night. Since this latest tropical storm, locally called Crising, was expected to reach its peak in the afternoon, residents rushed to the bakery store: they were told the market would close, as merchants were too afraid to leave their families alone at home. In the ICRC office, our colleagues feared the worst for families who have not yet recovered from the destruction of their villages by typhoon Bopha in December.

At the first sign of bad weather, the ICRC and its local partner the Philippine Red Cross immediately sent 600 additional tarpaulins, 1,200 mosquito nets and 1,200 plastic mats to be provided to people living in the most vulnerable areas of Cateel and Baganga municipalities. Earlier this year, these residents had already received food and essential household items to give them immediate relief in the aftermath of the typhoon. This kind of assistance is continuing, and will eventually help up to 300,000 people for a period of five months.

Baganga - Tuesday, 19 February:

Not far from our office in Baganga, Clarissa looks with eyes full of tears at her husband, sleeping on an improvised bed surrounded by her three children. Last night was the scariest since the typhoon stole their rooftop and most of their house last year.

"When the water levels started rising inside the house, I found my three children – they are 6, 11 and 13 – running to the street. Minutes later, the level of the (Dawis) river nearby reached my shoulders, and we knew we could not stay here too much longer." 

 "Now when rain starts to fall I get nervous and scared. My children are traumatized. They are afraid they will be trapped in the house if another typhoon comes. We did not sleep at all last night. We spent our time in the street, with the other neighbours, waiting for the floods to stop."

Not very far from her home lives Rody Silat with his 11 family members. His eldest son moved in with his two babies, after the typhoon took their house. They share a tiny wooden room, the windows of which are no longer there. "Pablo took everything," he says.

 He remembers Sunday night, when waters from Dawis River invaded their tiny space through a huge hole in the wall while mud from the nearby cliff rushed in from the door. "When we felt surrounded, I just held the children and ran," he says.

 He does not want to leave for a safer area, because this is the only spot they can call "home." Tonight, with heavy rains again predicted, Rody says they will all be back at their place. They will not sleep, he explains: at all times, at least one person will be awake to monitor the water level and keep the baby high enough in his net.

Cateel - Wednesday, 20 February:

They call it Alegria, joy, but this village seems far from being the happy land it once was…
On the highway leading to Alegria in Cateel municipality, Philippine Red Cross volunteers distribute rice to some 90 families who have spent their nights in the open since tropical depression Crising took a toll on their houses, only recently repaired with emergency materials after they were destroyed by typhoon Bopha. -

While Luz Pagoyan, a village official for Liwan area, awaits her turn to be given five kilograms of rice, she explains that the families moved to the side of the road as water levels started rising. "We did not think twice," she said. "We took off the tarpaulins you had given to us, and ran to the highway with our children and our elderly, and set up our tents."

For the first time in three days of heavy rain, the water is low enough for people to have a first inspection of their homes. Some who did not wish to sleep by the roadside decided to come back despite the floods and the mud in their houses. The evacuation centre in Alegria was already full, and could not further accommodate anyone…

I see them making their way through the pools of rice fields, irreparably damaged now for the third time in two months. "All of these plantations belong to the families here in Liwan. All is lost, again," laments Luz.

Further away, in Purok San Vicente, Alicia Castillones sees her pupils back to an improvised schooling tent. "Some of the children are already sleeping here, so we thought we might as well continue with the classes," she says. Today, some 120 children were in school, after classes were dismissed for the past two days. "It gets difficult sometimes," she adds with a smile, "but that's how things are." 

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