Sunday, May 09

After Ompong, a battered town picks up the pieces

September 22, 2018 | Jonas Trinidad

Tzu Chi's survey team enters a small village in Barangay Bitag Grande, Baggao, Cagayan. The town bore the brunt of Typhoon Ompong (Mangkhut) as it made landfall, leaving dead trees and damaged homes. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】

Story Highlights

  • 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.

  • The team visits the Pataray residence first, which maintains a store. Mother of three Ruena (right), despite great difficulty, reopens her store to be able to pay for the family's expenses again. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】

  • Part of the roof of the Pataray home collapsed at the height of Ompong. The family sought shelter at the next room, under the concrete sink, fearing that the house might fall on top of them. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】

  • Leaning utility poles make roads barely passable to vehicles. Motorcycles have no problems passing underneath, but larger vehicles have to slow down and check their clearance. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】

  • Some homes sit atop of hills in hopes of being spared of flooding of the local river. In Ompong's case, however, these homes often suffer worse damage than those in the low-lying areas. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】

  • The residence of Felicidad Supnet is a loose assembly of wood and aluminum scraps scattered by the typhoon's winds. Until they can earn the money to build a proper house, the family will have to live here for a while. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】

  • The crumbly soil is a cause for concern for Tzu Chi volunteer James Chua. He warned the families living on top of the hills that the soil may erode with heavy rainfall and sweep their homes in a localized landslide. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】

  • A high-quality roof is gone to waste after being ripped out of the concrete house next to it. According to the locals, the owner hadn't had enough time to completely nail the roof down. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】

  • Only a few belongings are left of the house belonging to Adoracion Demao's brother, who died of a sickness years ago. His wife still comes home from time to time but is living in Tuguegarao because of work. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】

  • This roof belonged to Adoracion Demao's brother's house. The fact that not only the roof but the trusses were blown to this side of the road is a testament to Ompong's fury. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】

  • The local agricultural economy had taken a severe beating after Ompong. Corn fields lay flattened, forcing farmers to harvest them before they can fully grow. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】

  • Adoracion Demao (right) shows Tzu Chi volunteer Michael Siao the state of the corn after the disaster. The crops won't be growing anymore, as the stalks have already snapped in two. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】


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