Armed with fortitude and resilience - villagers survive Yolanda’s fury


By Theresa C. Carino

Recalling typhoon Yolanda’s fury still brings tears to the eyes of 42-year old Rhylene Toquero. The housewife, barangay councilor and hardy mother of 6 children aged 25 to 2 years old, shuddered as she momentarily relived the terror she and her family members felt as the storm raged for two seemingly unending hours, tearing apart their home as they huddled together, immobilized by fear and praying for their lives. They were enveloped in darkness as the stormy waters swirled around them and totally washed out their house located not far from the beach on the small island of Puntaburi, one of many islands in Ajuy, Northern Iloilo. After the typhoon had spent its rage, the family rushed to the hills where they sought shelter, unsure when the typhoon might return. It was only the following day that they dared to venture back to where their home used to be, with only bananas for food, offered by kindly neighbors. Collecting the usable debris from damaged homes, they constructed a makeshift shelter.

According to Rodolfo Burroba, a civil engineer who had opted for early retirement after stints in Japan and Saipan, all roofs were blown off, including that of the school gym. As in many other affected islands, in Puntaburi, almost all of its 155 boats were severely damaged, undermining the livelihoods of fisher folks that make up the majority of the population. Electricity has been partially restored, but only in the area around the village hall, using restored generators and some solar powered lights.

There are quite a few families in Puntaburi that still live in makeshift shelters, using tarpaulins as roofs. On even smaller islands, damaged homes tilted in the wind, with broken roofs and gaping walls still visible from the sea, as we approached them on small, motorized boats fitted with bamboo outriggers. At low tide, we had to wade ashore in knee high waters.

The remote islands could be only approached  by small, motorized boats with bamboo outriggers.

Staff had to wade ashore in knee high water.

Damaged homes with broken roofs and gaping walls were still visible in all barangays we visited.

While villagers appear to be in high spirits, grateful for the delivery of relief packages from Amity Foundation working in tandem with KAISA, a non-profit voluntary organization made up of Chinese Filipinos, things are “not yet normal.” Over the last three months, various NGOs and UN agencies have delivered relief goods a few times, but often giving only two to three kilos of rice per family per distribution. More than 5,000 families in Ajuy, Batad and San Dioniso were delighted to receive 25-kilo bags of rice per family during Amity-KAISA’s distribution of relief goods that was supported by the Hong Kong SAR Government’s Disaster Relief Fund. Apart from rice, the 40-kilo packages included much needed mosquito nets, blankets, slippers, candles and pails.

During our week-long trip to distribute relief goods, we personally experienced the communication and transport difficulties of the many island and mountain barangays affected by the typhoon. Bringing relief goods to these areas required shipping or airfreighting materials from Manila to Iloilo city, followed by a process of repacking and transporting them overland in dump trucks to points where bangkas (small boats) would repeatedly ferry the relief goods to the islands. The time taken was painstakingly long and we were grateful to have the help and support of enthusiastic volunteers from KAISA, the Iloilo Red Cross and the ICAG (Iloilo Citizens Action Group). It was a complex, delicate and challenging operation. The provincial office of Iloilo helped the process by providing dump trucks and motorized boats for ferrying relief goods but we realized the province had very limited infrastructure, equipment and staff. The number of dump trucks available was quite inadequate as they were also being used in the restoration of damaged infrastructure.

Theresa interviews island's villagers.

Badly damaged schools are still used even as iron dangle dangerously from broken beams.

Amity staff inspecting roofless school buildings, confronted with students and teachers bravely continue holding classes.

Our trip exposed us to the dangers and difficulties confronted by students and teachers as they bravely continued holding classes in badly damaged rooms. More than half the classrooms in many schools have lost their roofs. Some continue to be used even as twisted galvanized iron dangle dangerously from broken beams and children suffer from intense heat as sunlight streams into partially roofed classrooms. Some schools have received galvanized iron sheets and nails from NGOs and local governments but still lack funds to hire carpenters who have the necessary skills.

After surviving for almost 3 months with very little, people are hungry for livelihood projects that will enable them to work for a living again. According to the mayor of San Dionisio, the 3 month hiatus in fishing has brought back the crabs and fish to the pristine waters of Northern Iloilo. Missing, however, are usable, seaworthy boats. Unfortunately, trees such as the locally grown Bakan and Tipulo were completely destroyed during the typhoon. Tree trunks that provided strong material for hulls were ripped off by the storm, broken and strewn over the highways, destroying the local boat-making industry in the area. In response, government, NGOs and churches are just beginning to donate boats for livelihood projects. It will certainly take time before “life can be normal” again but we know that hope for a better future remains strong in the hearts of the people of Northern Iloilo. And that is what truly matters.

Amity is working in tandem with KAISA for the victims of super typhoon Hayian.

Livelihood and rehabilitation projects are just beginning.

Hope for a better future remains strong.