They might be knocked down, but certainly they were not crushed.
Who would forget the monstrous typhoon that struck Central Philippines in November 2013? Yolanda (known internationally as Haiyan) will always be remembered as a glaring indicator on the possible risks we are confronting due to climate change. It left an overwhelming impact that it need a global cooperation to help the areas it ravaged to start anew and build back better.
Back in those times, I was still part of a national development network. I cannot help but to reminisce how hard it was during that time.
A few of my officemates decided to embark in a mission to do a rapid assessment on the situation of our partner communities in Eastern Visayas. Air travel was not possible because the Tacloban airport was heavily damaged. Commuting via Bicol-Matnog-Samar was the only option but it was difficult as well due to the huge volume of stranded passengers and goods in the Matnog port.
Another team was also formed to do same task in Panay Island. But compared to our Eastern Visayas group, they had experienced minor challenges in their trip.
Here in Manila, I was tasked to man the communications operations for updates and exchange of information to facilitate the quick delivery of assistance to affected communities. I never gone to ground zero after the typhoon hit to personally see, hear and feel what happened but the numbers, observations, and photos that was sent to me to circulate to our network partners was already too crushing.
In January 2014, I was able to visit some communities in Capiz where I heard what our people had gone through when Yolanda unleashed its strength over them. Rainwaters poured hard that their crops ready for harvesting were soaked into floodwaters. Strong winds blew down their houses similar to what the big bad wolf had done to his victims’ abode. Even their evacuation area was not spared from the intensity of Yolanda’s sheer power.
In November 2014, I was assigned to do supporting tasks in our community-based initiatives in Guiuan, Eastern Samar as part of our first year commemoration on the onslaught of Yolanda. Again, I got the opportunity to hear and see what happened. The only difference was that I could listen to testaments how powerful the typhoon was when it finally hit the land.
Guiuan is the southernmost town of Eastern Samar. It comprises the small island communities of Manicani and Homonhon, two of our partner communities, which had felt the initial brunt of Yolanda.
Houses in Homonhon and other Yolanda-hit areas were typically made of light materials. With 300 kilometers-per-hour gustiness, it was no wonder that these houses could not stand Yolanda’s winds. Shelter had been one of the major problems that was faced right after the typhoon.
Ruins of an 1844 baroque church in Guiuan. At the height of Yolanda, the parish priest refused the plea of the residents to seek shelter inside the church due to the artifacts that might be destroyed. His refusal, however, saved lives when hours later the church collapsed inward due to strong winds.
In Manicani Island, the parish priest shared that huge storm surges reached their chapel where most of the residents sought refuge. When seawaters were already five-foot high, his parishioners asked prayers for their safety. Instead, he uttered prayer intended for the demise due to their lack of hope that they could still withstand the nature’s force. Luckily, all of them in that chapel survived.
Even government buildings could not escape Yolanda’s destruction spree. Due to severe damage on the municipal hall, tents were set-up to house the temporary operation of Guiuan municipal office.
Aside from natural calamity such as typhoons, destructive human activities, such as large-scale mining, ruined the small and fragile islands of Manicani and Homonhon. The damages wrought by mining adversely contributed to the risks brought by Yolanda.
The Early Recovery
A year after, Homonhon and other Yolanda-affected areas had returned to their simple living. Various initiatives, including ours in my previous employment, helped these communities to rebuild again. The Yolanda aftermath showed us that we are vulnerable in the adversities due to altering weather conditions. It reminds us to take actions to be sustainable and prepared in facing these new climate realities.
Homonhon and Manicani are fishing villages. The Pacific Ocean and the Leyte Gulf surrounding these islands provide them bountiful marine resources. Homonhon has been known in producing dried fishes – unlike with the others, theirs are not salty. Early recovery focused on livelihood support programs, such as fishing and farming of viable crops for these islands.
Fisherfolks, mothers, coastal residents, and members of local police participated in the mangrove planting along the stretch of Guiuan coast. Apart from providing havens for aquatic resources, mangroves also serve as natural barriers against storm surges. During Yolanda, residents narrated that waves generated by the typhoon can reach as high as a two-storey building.
Trauma left deep scars in the emotional well-being of Yolanda-stricken populace. Our development organization held several psychosocial debriefing sessions to eliminate these psychological nightmares. We had concerts featuring alternative musicians, such as Lolita Carbon, for Guiuan mainland residents.
Kite flying activities were also conducted for children of Manicani and Homonhon so they could disassociate the strong winds with fear.
In November 2013, our national coordinator, who was my former boss, took the photo above. After a year, I took a picture on that same spot. See the difference? With these initiatives coming from different government and non-government institutions, we are guaranteed that these communities can be more than better. They might be knocked down, but certainly they were not crushed.