Saturday, November 30, 2013

BANGON ALBUERA!

#BANGON ALBUERA!
Stories of hope, faith and survival 
during typhoon Yolanda's aftermath
by Ivan Ignacio


I thought that scenes where you can see planes from the Air Force, ships from our (and other countries') Navy, and army trucks pass by every twenty or so minutes can only be seen in war movies until our boat landed in Ormoc City, Leyte. It was not the city I knew anymore. Establishments with damaged roof (some with no roof at all), electric posts and trees were either bent or lying on the ground, shards of broken glasses were scattered everywhere. The once lush green mountains and hills were now as dull as ever. And the people? They were trying to pick up the pieces from what was left of their properties, and their lives. All of these were compressed in a vast sight of a sorrowful town. It was like depicting a vulnerable harrowing work of art. The moment we stepped on that port, everything - the news, the pictures and videos circulating in different media, the stories - felt surreal.


A MISSION IN ALBUERA

Albuera is a third class municipality in the province of Leyte. This coastal town is situated between Ormoc City and Baybay which house two of the province's major ports. Albuera, like the other surrounding towns, was affected by the super typhoon Yolanda which crossed the Philippines' area of responsibility on the second weekend of November 2013. 

The group's official poster for the relief operations

News of the effects of the deluge in Tacloban spread like wildfire. Chaos, destruction of houses and other establishments, and even deaths were seen on the news. Albuera, being two hours away from this key city, received no footage of its condition for a couple of days due to the obstruction in the national highway and roads. Unbeknownst to the public, though with lesser reported deaths, the town also suffered a significant span of damage. Communication lines were completely cut for the first few days, and transportation was difficult as the roads were barricaded with fallen trees, electric posts and random objects moved by the intense wind coming from the super typhoon.


The BACKPACKERS, through the help of the partner organizations and tapped corporations, initiated an effort to help several barangays and sitio in Albuera, Leyte. We have collected an overwhelming number of family packs, enough to sustain more than a thousand families. This mission was supposed to take place weekend after the typhoon, but was pushed back to November 23-24 due to some logistics delay of our cargo. The extended endeavor maybe exhausting but it was very much fulfilling and worth it.




FLASHBACK: THE WRATH OF YOLANDA

Wood and steel were no match to Yolanda's strength

On November 16, The BACKPACKERS arrived in Leyte via Cebu stripped off from the relief goods which were still being transported by our partner airline AirAsia Zest. After witnessing the desolating view of Ormoc City from the port, we headed to our target destination, Brgy. Balugo Dos in Albuera. We were treated with much hospitality from the Cawalings, the family who housed us during our stay there for two weekends.

Tumbled or dead trees everywhere

It was dawn of November 9 when the family, along with their relatives and neighbors sought refuge from a bigger house nearby. It was the strongest and most horrifying typhoon that they have ever witnessed. The wind was excessively petrifying, and its gust was strong enough to crumple the long flag pole in the town hall. Aside from the terrifying howl of the wind, the sound of trees falling and banging on the roof of the houses were also worrisome for the refugees. One can just hope that it was not their house crushed by the once proud trees. Moreover, they hoped that everything was just part of a bad nightmare. Everyone inside the house thought of the same thing: that it was the last morning of their lives. Tears failed to be contained as thoughts of loved ones in faraway areas struck them,... they may not be able to see them again.


The locals endured this helpless condition for four to five hours. And as the people who took refuge from the storm went out when Yolanda weakened, they were surprised to witness the extent of the typhoon's damage. For some of the neighboring houses, it was back to zero. It was painful for them to see all that they've got destroyed and scattered on the ground. The humble abode of the Cawaling family almost withstood the wrath of Yolanda as neighboring houses were damaged by falling coconut trees, shattering glasses and flying debris. As the storm rampaged in the area, the house was close to being unscathed. But when the family members were on their way to check on their house, a tall tree came tumbling down the kitchen area right before their very eyes. Their houses may be damaged, but at least they were all safe.

The barangay reported three casualties. These unfortunate souls were hit hard by falling trees and debris. May the good Lord bless their souls who are now in the heavens above...




A TALE OF A GRANDMOTHER

Whenever we encounter anything disorganized - from one's hair, ironing of clothes or clutter in one's room, we tend to utter the idiom 'parang dinaanan ng bagyo' (looks like a storm passed by). And this saying remains to be an underrated statement until you get to actually witness what it's like to chase the path of a typhoon as strong as Yolanda. There wasn't any electric post along the highway from Ormoc to Albuera that remained in a straight 90 degree stance. Fallen trees were everywhere. It was like a perfect setting for a disaster movie. But more than the fallen structures, a major concern would be picking up from what was left and securing one's basic needs: shelter and food.


After the storm, a boy and his grandmother came out to check the situation outside. The boy started taking pictures of the aftermath of the storm using his most prized possession: a tablet from a sibling who he thought he'll never see again. The images captured how horrible the situation was after the storm. The two have not eaten breakfast as they were just focused in letting the morning pass by without any injuries or casualty. Across the house was a store - damaged and messy. It was a brewing recession for the business owner as damaged goods were thrown everywhere. As the owners stood shocked, the boy and his grandmother passed by. The boy saw an opportunity to loot by taking a bread on the ground just to fill his hungry stomach. But the grandmother warned the boy that it was unethical and against the law. She taught the boy a lesson that no matter how desperate the situation was, they had to uphold their morals and values because probably that's the only thing left for them. The boy understood and continued taking pictures of the surroundings. Then the innocent eyes of the boy himself captured a heartbreaking scene of his own grandmother grabbing a can of sardines on the ground and putting it in her pocket. And when they walked out of the ruined store, she knelt down and prayed for forgiveness for what she has done.


I had the chance to speak with the grandmother. In her seventy years of existence, she had never seen such force and wreckage. The situation was desperate. During that time, they needed something to eat. It was chaotic and messy and they knew that recovery and relief would take some time to reach the area. And that one piece of stolen sardines became enough to help them out for that day... that long, endless and desperate day.




A TEAR AT SITIO LAWIS

One of the sitios mostly affected by the super typhoon is Sitio Lawis. This small coastal community in the town of Albuera was once teeming with lush vegetation and tall trees. Small and medium sized houses were lined up, decent meters away from the shoreline. About eighty families thrive in this simple and rustic neighborhood.

While walking along Sitio Lawis, we chanced upon this heartbreaking scene of two boys staring
at the damage brought about by typhoon Yolanda. One of these ruined houses was probably theirs
.

Everything changed when Yolanda huffed along the Eastern Visayas section. From the myriad of coconut trees, you can count those that remained standing. Houses along the shore were in complete ruins. The storm surge was estimated to be at twelve feet high and connected the sea to the lake behind the village. Unlike Brgy. Balugo Dos, there was no sturdy house made of brick to be converted as a hideaway. The profusion of downpour and sea water drowned almost everything. It was a good thing that the locals in the area were all good swimmers. The children and their parents were forced to swim parallel to the surge to reach a higher ground and look for cover.


The Abastas, a family of six in Sitio Lawis was lucky that their house was on the other side of the street. As the other family worried about the tidal wave washing their shacks and boats, the Abastas family was tormented by the wind which already threw part of the walls and roof of their house. But as time passed, water rose and their house became penetrable making it more dangerous to stay inside. Kuya Julio, the head of the family, carried his children and wife outside to seek a safer spot. He found a long table and asked his family members to stay low as the tide continued to wash everything away. His wife and children were already crying. Kuya Julio saw his family helpless, weak and scared but he could not do anything to change the situation. He could only risk his own life standing outside the long table to watch over and protect his family from flying debris. Everything that he worked for was close to being gone. And as he saw their house slowly being torn apart by the raging typhoon, and the vision of his sons and daughters chilling miserably in that cold, wet morning, he could only pray as tears started to drop from his eyes.


After the typhoon, the sitio was in immense wreck. But more than everything - the locals here needed an assurance that things will recover. More than the relief goods and short term needs, they needed something for the long run: the recovery of their houses which used to shelter them from the elements and the repairing of their boats which basically helped them make ends meet.




CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE SOUL

Morning of November 17, a commotion outside the house of the Cawaling residence woke me up. There was a large crowd of children and some parents being entertained by my co-Backpackers. Yikes, I was late for that morning's feeding program! BPs Anna, Mau and guest Amber spearheaded some games for the kids while our resident chef BP Resty cooked a delicious and hot breakfast for everyone. The kids participated in a Pinoy Henyo session. Their basic math skills were then challenged by the host, BP Anna.


The breakfast was served in different batches. And as the big pot of chicken soup was placed on the table, the kids started to line up holding their mugs and containers. It was a simple kind gesture for the group as we were not able to transport our relief goods that weekend. But more than anything, the hot soup and games diverted the attention of the kids from the trauma of what happened in their community.


It was just one of the many mornings that these kids will face while their families try to provide for them to eat. They can no longer rely from fishing which was their main source of livelihood. Their boats, if not swallowed by the sea, were in total wreck. Life was already tough for these people prior to the calamity. Yolanda even worsened their struggle.




ROOFLESS BUT NOT HOPELESS

Without a doubt, food is vital for those affected by the typhoon. But more than that, it was pretty apparent that shelter was a more obvious loss. Even the big houses failed to escape the havoc brought about by Yolanda. The material of the roof was insignificant. At some point in that harrowing five hours, it was bent by the unforgiving storm whether it was made of wood or steel. Sheets of galvanized iron and timber flew in different projectile directions. It was hopeless. How can someone live in a house with no roof or walls?


Businesses were also shaken by Yolanda. Establishments had close to no roof, and glass windows were broken. The newly built hospital in Ormoc City fell victim as well. The most horrible picture of the effects of the storm was the Ormoc City station where buses and multicabs plying to Albuera and other towns stop by to pick up passengers. The entire roof was gone and was taken away by the brute force of the typhoon's wind. Add to that, one part of the station collapsed.


As we were walking downtown one morning, we saw the hapless condition of the city next to Albuera. It was already one to two weeks after the deluge and they were in a state of slow recovery. People had to line up just to get something from the supermarket or drugstore. Because of the looting incidences in Tacloban, business owners decided to be prudent in the way they handle their business' security. Pawnshops and remittance centers were faced with overwhelming crowds. One local mentioned that it took her two days to get the money remitted from her family member in Manila. Many stores shut down. All the major fastfood chains were closed for several weeks now. You can not walk barefoot as shards of glasses were scattered on the street. Transportation fares doubled. Hundreds, if not thousands of electric posts tumbled down causing a huge power outage in the province. It seemed hopeless until we passed by a hardware store that posted a big banner in front of their shop. The sign Roofless But Not Hopeless reminded the passers-by that their establishment's roof maybe down, but their spirit and hopes were certainly not out.





A RAINBOW OF HOPE

The city was filled with uplifting signs. Aside from Roofless But Not Hopeless, we saw signs that read 'Kaya Natin To Leyte' and 'Bangon Ormoc'. These words or phrases helped uplift the morale of their fellow townsfolk. They say that Filipinos are generally jolly. Amidst everything that happened, regardless of how gloomy the situation was, we never failed to witness our fellow countrymen smile as if nothing happened. The positive thing is that we don't sulk and cry over spilled milk. The neighborhood already cleared most of the obstructions along the road. Truck from an electric company surveyed the area and they certainly have a lot of work to do. I noticed they attached a Philippine flag onto their truck. While the truck moved, the flag waved which signifies hope. The return of Leyte in its normal state may be slow paced but at least there's some recovery going on.

The Backpackers' Albuera trip was a heartbreaking one because we witnessed the melancholic condition and devastation brought about by the super typhoon Yolanda. But talking to people who were optimistic of the future and meeting other troops and organizations who were there to serve the same purpose, made me realize that there's so much cooperation and hope. We do not have to work for the government to spark change and help others. We just have to find that innate passion in all of us. And that's the Filipino spirit.


Morning of November 19, we had to temporarily wave goodbye to Albuera to go on with our lives in the metropolis. Our cargo with tons of relief goods got delayed but we promised the land that we will go back to finish what we started. On our way back to the port, a spectrum of vibrant colors stood out in the sky, a rainbow. And I'm pretty sure that the people in Leyte also saw the same beauty in that horizon. That beautiful picture which reminded us  in this case that there's always a rainbow even after a super typhoon.





CONGRATULATIONS!
The BACKPACKERS Team Albuera Batch 1


Team Manila
waiting at the port of Cebu
Manila based:
   
Liz Keith Honrade
Nick Garcia
Wilson Galapon
York Advento
and Jun


Team Cebu



Cebu based:
   
Leah Nogoy
Heinz Alvarez
Team Leyte
Leyte based:
    
Amber Prudenciado
Angel Cawaling
Anna Aujero
April Bedana
Isabel Fonte
Weng Bulaon
Ivan Ignacio
Mau Mauleon
Mon Sarmiento
Ralph Flores
Resty Ritualo
Rexie Vergara


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Up Next:

The BACKPACKERS finally had their relief goods 
secured by a rolling cargo from Cebu to Leyte.

Batch Two came back to Albuera to accomplish
what we started. And not three, but six brgys and sitios
received the love and hope they needed.

The Thank You's to all of those who 
helped in this undertaking.

#Bangon Albuera
#Bangon Leyte
#Bangon Visayas
#Bangon Pilipinas
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Photo credits to Anna, April, 
Leah, Liz, Ralph, and Resty


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