MANILA, Philippines – While the country battles the coronavirus pandemic, residents of a town in Eastern Samar found themselves striving to keep afloat as Typhoon Ambo flooded their homes and destroyed their livelihood.
For more than two days, several upstream and low-lying barangays in Oras, Eastern Samar became completely submerged following Typhoon Ambo’s landfall on Thursday, May 14. Floodwaters had reached as high as the second floor of the houses in the area.
Loss of livelihood
Bearing the brunt of the Philippines’ first typhoon of 2020, Oras suffered strong winds and torrential rain that uprooted coconut trees and pummeled houses. Oras Mayor Viviane Alvarez pegged the number of totally damaged houses at 1,000 to 2,000, with 15 barangays out of 42 submerged at the onset of the typhoon.
The typhoon even destroyed pump boats that had been supposedly stored safely in homes, swept away livestock and newly harvested crops, and inundated farmlands.
“Lahat ng inaasahan ng majority sa Oras ay nasira. High-value crops, mga banana namin, lahat sira…. We are really at a loss kung saan kami magstart in terms of the livelihood kasi sa laki ng damage ngayon, back to zero lahat ng ating mga farmers, even fisherfolk at that,” said Alvarez.
(All means of livelihood that a majority of Oras residents rely on got destroyed. Our high-value crops, all got destroyed…. We are really at a loss as to where we can start in terms of livelihood. With the severity of the damage now, our farmers and fisherfolk have gone back to zero.)
Initially reserved as COVID-19 isolation facilities, schools in the town had been converted into evacuation centers due to the overwhelming numbers of evacuees. (READ: How local governments observed physical distancing in evacuation centers)
“‘Yung impact talaga nito is not only on the livelihood pati doon sa structures namin for education. I do not know how we can cope with this. At least medyo matagal-tagal pa ‘yung klase. Pero DepEd, I do not know paano nila marerecover before the class starts by August,” Alvarez said.
(The impact here is not only on livelihood but also our structures for education. I do not know how we can cope with this. At least it’ll be a while before classes start. But I do not know how the Department of Education will recover before the class starts in August.)
Days since the landfall, Oras is still reeling from the impact of Ambo. In an interview on Monday, May 18, Alvarez said several residents have gone home from evacuation centers to fix their partially damaged houses.
Despite the need to maintain physical distancing during this time, others have been forced to live in cramped spaces with their relatives after their homes got destroyed.
Alvarez said that those who lived in low-lying areas near the riverbank fled their homes carrying only their essentials. When they returned home, their houses were gone.
The municipal government is finalizing its rapid assessment on damage and has sought assistance from the national government, non-governmental organizations, and the private sector to help rebuild Oras.
The local government used fallen coconut trees for coco lumber to help build temporary shelter, and provided relief goods to households.
“We are doing what we can dito sa munisipyo ngayon (here in the municipality now). These are the only resources we have at this time. Kaya nga po umapila kami ng tulong sa mga puwedeng makatulong sa panahon ngayon (That’s why we are appealing for help during this time),” said Alvarez.
She said that the municipal government’s disaster funds are nearly depleted and cannot adequately address the town’s COVID-19 and disaster recovery efforts.
“We have to respond to both the challenges of the impact of Ambo and the continuing challenge of COVID-19…. Almost all of our funds are already exhausted kaya hirap na hirap ang mga LGUs ngayon na affected ng Ambo (that’s why LGUs affected by Ambo are struggling) to really find ways in answering the needs of our constituents,” added Alvarez.
Facing Ambo and the coronavirus outbreak
The aftermath of Ambo, on top of the heavy burden of containing the coronavirus pandemic, have taken a toll on the citizens and even local government officials in the area.
“After nung landfall, noong umikot ako, as in talaga 4 hours ako tulala after. I do not know where to start picking up the pieces but I have to [be] strong enough kasi kahit mga kapitan ko, umiiyak na ‘pag lumalapit [sila sa akin]. ‘Yung tipong you have to be strong for others,” shared Alvarez.
(After the landfall, when I went around the area, I was just in a state of shock for 4 hours. I do not know where to start picking up the pieces but I have to be strong enough because even my barangay captains cry when they come to me. It’s like I have to be strong for others.)
“Patong-patong na ang mga fears ng mga tao dito. Hindi mo na lang alam kung anong words ang sasabihin sa kanila to keep them afloat pero sige lang, kaya, laban pa rin (The people’s fears have piled up. You don’t know what words to tell them to keep them afloat but you have to forge on and keep fighting),” added Alvarez.
The Oras mayor lamented how the municipality had only found out that the areas was under Signal No. 3 at 5 am on the day of the landfall. This led to the imposition of a forcedevacuation only at around 7 am. Alvarez noted how some became complacent since they were unaware of the typhoon’s strength.
“Hindi naman po lahat dito may access sa internet. So pag hindi nila nakita ito sa news, hindi rin nila alam. Eh yung upstream barangays namin, wala naman internet doon so they only rely on television. Kung walang broadcast na may forecast na ganoon kalakas, ‘yung mga tao talaga, hindi nila ini-expect na ganoon kalakas ang impact ng bagyo,” she said.
(Not everyone here has access to internet. So if they don’t see it in the news, they won’t know. The upstream barangays don’t have internet so they rely on television. If there’s no broadcast that contains a forecast that the typhoon could be strong, people won’t expect the gravity of its impact.)
Appeal for help
To help Oras bounce back, Alvarez is appealing for donations of the following items:
- Food assistance
- Materials for building shelter such as nails and hammers
- Hygiene kits
- Disinfectants for drinking water
- Potable water
- Used clothing
They especially want to focus on immediately rebuilding houses since the municipal government hopes to discourage families living in the same home to avoid a possible transmission of the coronavirus.
Those who want to help may relay and coordinate their donations to the Oras municipal disaster risk reduction and management office by contacting Joann Salvatierra at 09278013110 and 09989508537.
They may also donate cash to the municpality’s trust fund account:
Account name:LGU ORAS -TEEP
Account no. 1202-1078-65