Philippines: The Curse of Floods
The stories of storytellers who covered the tragedy tell of villages wiped out in the dead of night; of men and women losing each and every child and more; of losing their homes; of being buried in filth and mud; of searching for bodies beneath the rubble and of spending Christmas Day with no food, shelter or loved one.
The stories are as endless as they are tragic. The rains came like a curse, as they did the year before, a few days before Christmas, and many years before that. It is a curse to anyone whose life is about one’s children and the embrace of loved ones.
There was no lack of warnings from government agencies. It would be deadly, officials had said.
But no one can predict just how it would be; that in a single split of the gray skies, one can lose it all.
Tropical cyclone Pablo (international name Bopha) ripped through the southern part of the Philippines on 5 December 2012, leaving hundreds dead and missing in the provinces of Compostela Valley, Davao Oriental and Surigao del Sur in the south.
Survivors searched amid the maddening stench of death, beneath the rubble, plodding down muddied roads and piles of logs and scouring evacuation centres with the hopes of finding their missing loved ones.
In a place called Compostela Valley, there is a man named Dante who lost 18 of his family members, says journalist Patricia Evangelista in an article on online news site Rappler.
His wife, children and sister-in-law are missing.
And there are hundreds of others like Dante, hoping against hope to find their missing kin.
The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, the government agency that responds to such disasters and calamities, changes the death toll from typhoon Pablo almost everyday.
It started with a few hundreds. 200. 300. 647. 780. 1,000. Now the death toll has gone up further to 1,050 as of 21 December 2012, the agency said.
Southern Philippines-based journalist JB Deveza tells this writer that despite warnings to evacuate, many residents in affected areas did not.
They weren’t necessarily too stubborn to go. Deveza says that many residents in the affected areas had no access to radio or television to hear the warnings from authorities.
“Those were not easily accessible even to local government officials,” Deveza explains. Nevertheless, he says that the situation could have been worse if the typhoon came in the dead of night as it did a year ago.
“If it came at night, many more would have died,” he says.
Aside from the failure of the warnings to reach the affected residents, illegal gold mining activities are also largely to be blamed for the disaster, experts say.
New Bataan in Compostela Valley in the southern Philippines was one of the worst hit towns in the region. It is host to small miners who struggle to make a living digging out gold in its resource rich mountains.
“Mining and logging may have had an effect,” the country’s civil defence chief Benito Ramos told Agence France Press.
Ramos said the mountains of Compostela Valley are riddled with holes brought about by mining.
Journalist John Javellana went back to New Bataan on Christmas Day last year. He opted to spend Christmas away from his family to be able to show the affected residents that they are not alone.
Despite the curse of the floods, the survivors of New Bataan will struggle to continue with life, to begin again, whatever beginning means to a village wiped out by angry rains.