Cateel, a week after Pablo

Karlos Manlupig
Many residents survived after taking refuge in restrooms

OBLITERATED TOWN. A resident rides his ramshackle bike through the debris in Cateel. Photo by Karlos Manlupig

CATEEL, Philippines – The local government of Cateel admitted they may have shortcomings in disaster management but were able to facilitate the evacuation of many residents when typhoon Pablo pummeled this Davao Oriental town a week ago.

However, most of the evacuation centers, including public schools, were also heavily damaged by the strong winds and rain.

The storm ripped the structures apart, sending deadly pieces of galvanized roofs and wood flying in every direction.

Most injured survivors were rammed by uprooted trees or pierced by metal sheets and splintered wood, Cateel local government official Maria Theresa Obatonon said on Tuesday, December 11.

AFTER THE STORM. Wreckage from typhoon Pablo lines the streets. Photo by Karlos Manlupig

Evacuation centers collapsed 

Out of the 147 reported casualties in Cateel, at least 11 perished when the evacuation centers where they were temporarily taking shelter collapsed and crushed them to death, Obatonon said.

Reacting to statements that the residents should be blamed for not evacuating, Mayor Camilo Nuñez pointed out that the local government conducted evacuation operations, assisted by the police and the military, a day before Pablo made landfall.

“Those who resisted the evacuation order have [now] also left their homes to take shelter in the nearest evacuation centers by night,” Nuñez said.

Both authorities and citizens had expected the shelters to resist the storm in a part of Mindanao regularly battered by the Amihan or northeast monsoon.

“The people must no be blamed. We have [never] imagined Pablo [would be] this strong. And later we discovered that our evacuation centers [were] not that safe. But we cannot say that all evacuation centers [were] risky,” Nuñez said.

The mayor himself was also injured after he stepped on a nail when Pablo struck the area.

99% DESTROYED. Only this statue of Jose Rizal in the town plaza was left standing in Cateel. Photo by Karlos Manlupig

Shelter in the rice fields

Survivors narrated that when their houses and the evacuation centers collapsed many of the people fled towards the nearby rice fields, where there were only few coconut trees to watch out for.

“We were really lucky to be able to survive. We were very helpless during the storm and our lives were at the mercy of nature,” explained Ramon, a market vendor.

“The national government and other agencies must not point their finger at us. There were no safe grounds when Pablo struck,” he added.

Aside from an immaculate white monument of Jose Rizal at the town’s plaza, every single building and structure in Cateel was damaged.

The initial estimate of the cost is over P2 million.

HIDING IN THE LOO. Many residents survived after taking shelter inside concrete restrooms. Photo by Karlos Manlupig

Restrooms as safe havens

Some locals, among them Obatonon herself, survived taking refuge in concrete restrooms.

“We fled our home because it was already blown away. So we took off and took shelter in another house. The wind started to rip the roof off and we were afraid that the ceiling would bury us alive. This forced us to take cover in a small restroom,” she narrated.

“We knew that the restroom’s ceiling and roof was small, that is why it could be easily blown away and would not fall and crush us. Luckily, we survived through this strategy,” Obatonon said.

The local government official said many of the people in her village have lived to tell their stories because they were protected by their toilets.

Mayor Nuñez would rather prepare better for the next typhoon and ask the national government to invest in quality evacuation centers as part of the country’s disaster management strategy. – Rappler.com

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