Widespread devastation welcomed Tzu Chi volunteers as they surveyed the extent of Typhoon Ompong’s (Mangkhut) onslaught at the town of Baggao, Cagayan. Bald trees and flattened cornfields aside, the residents rebuild their homes with whatever they can scavenge, scattered all over the countryside.
Widespread devastation welcomed Tzu Chi volunteers to the town of Baggao, Cagayan on September 22.
The signs of Typhoon Ompong’s (Mangkhut) passing are made clear. Vast cornfields lay flat, most of the corn still too young to be harvested. At least three transmission towers in the area have collapsed, depriving the town of electricity. Trees baldened by gale-force winds make the afternoon heat more sweltering.
The locals struggle to rebound from a cyclone that was nearly as strong as Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) that struck Leyte in 2013. Packing winds of up to 205 km/h, Ompong left a trail of destruction across the valley. Baggao took the full brunt of the typhoon as it made landfall on the afternoon of September 15. Over 5,000 houses in the town suffered partial or total damage, displacing close to 6,000 families.
Tzu Chi’s post-disaster survey focused on the outskirts, where most houses are loose assemblies of light materials. Many are fortunate for their houses to be still standing after facing Ompong’s fury. The house of 40-year-old Felicidad Supnet, however, is nowhere to be found on its original spot. Her husband put together a temporary shelter next to it, using whatever pieces of their former home they’ve recovered.
“We have no idea how to start over from this,” says Supnet.
More importantly, the typhoon has all but destroyed the local economy. The locals are dependent on rice and corn farming not just for income but also their source of food. Every square inch of arable land, including hillsides, are used for growing corn, mostly as feeds for livestock.
Adoracion Demao owns a plot of land next to her home over a hectare big. Her family borrowed Php 28,000 to grow corn and planned to pay for it using their harvest. After Ompong, however, she admits that they’ll be lucky if they manage to get something from their flattened crops.
Worse, Demao’s sister-in-law won’t have a home to return to. Nothing is left of her sister-in-law’s house on the other side of the cornfield save for its roof. Still attached to its trusses, the roof idles by the roadside, pierced by a tree trunk and resting on a couple of power lines.
“I feel sad because it’s going to be difficult for us to recover. We get our food from our harvest of corn, aside from income,” said 60-year-old Demao.
Ruena Pataray, 39 years old, reopens her store after the typhoon. She has a family to feed and three children to send to school, thus the need for her livelihood to stay alive. As her home is made of concrete, the family survived by hiding under the sink in case the roof comes down on them.
“My husband told us to never go out of the sink in case the house comes down. As the sink is made of concrete, he assured me and our three crying children that we were safe,” Pataray narrates.
Since then, she had their old roof removed while waiting for a replacement. For now, a piece of tarpaulin serves as their protection to the elements.