CEBU CITY, Philippines – On the morning of Friday, December 17, Cebuanos woke up to find their Queen City in ruins after Typhoon Odette (Rai) pummeled the Visayas the night before.
But it took not a few hours for Cebuanos to get back on their feet after the storm.
Alvin Manabat, a lineman for the Visayan Electric Company (VECO), is working nonstop to restore power in Cebu City even as his own home in Naga City, Cebu province, is still shrouded in darkness.
“Our home is very destroyed,” Manabat told Rappler in Cebuano. “But we’re still here, sacrificing.”
He has to work overtime to pay for the damage to their home. His family lost the roof over their heads at the height of Typhoon Odette’s fury. Their children are now left at home to look after whatever remains.
“We just patched up what we could temporarily,” Manabat said. “We are just here to serve, even if our bodies are tired, as long as the power comes back, especially with Christmas being near,” he added.
“For those affected by the typhoon, especially since it’s brownout everywhere, we will work hard to finish the job,” he said.
The work of the linemen in the aftermath of the crisis is crucial. The power outage triggered other crises across the city and province.
ATMs could not dispense cash, tap and drinking water stopped flowing, and gas stations could not pump enough gas to meet the needs of more than 1 million residents in the city.
On faith, calmness
Among workers affected by the gas crisis is Armando Tahop.
Like most of the houses here, the typhoon also blew the roof off Tahop’s home during that nightmare of an evening. He took less than three days to fix his home and get back on the road.
“The important thing is that everyone is safe. I decided to go back to work on day three because I can’t do anything just waiting at home,” Tahop said in Cebuano. “After I got done fixing my roof, I got back on the road. Gas has been a struggle. But what else can we do?” he added.
Armando has lived in Cebu for over 30 years, but he is originally from Southern Leyte, another province devastated by the typhoon.
He still did not have any contact with his mother, who lives in their home province.
He has faith, however, that his mom is okay.
“She is resourceful and knows her way around [the province],” I’m sure I will hear from her,” Armando said.
Taxi drivers were among those who had to resort to camping out at the gas station to fill up their tanks. For many of them, this meant a loss of income for those who rent their taxis by the day.
He recounted a passenger who cursed him the previous day because he did not have enough gas to take her to her destination.
“I hope people can remain calm and be kind to each other. We are all affected by this crisis,” he said.
“Magtinabangay” is a Cebuano word that means to help each other.
Relief volunteer Cliestiel Cimafranca did not have to be asked to help shortly after Odette hammered the island, even though she herself had been a victim of another tragedy before the typhoon even crossed the Visayas.
Her home was among 50 houses in her neighborhood in Pundok Gamay, Basak San Nicolas in Cebu City razed by a fire.
Fortunately for Cimafranca, the fire was extinguished before it reached the boarding house her family lives in with four others.
As Odette approached the island, its strong winds ripped out the roof of the boarding house her family was renting.
“I still have three siblings nga mas bata pa nako (who are younger than me). I was carrying my sibling, I was carrying him the whole time. During the typhoon, we can hear our neighbors shouting kay nanglupad na ilang atop (because the roof of their houses were blown out),” she said.
But, this did not stop her from lending herself to donation efforts four days after.
She said she heard of the relief operations initiated by her fellow youth leaders on December 19, when she had finally got a decent signal after traveling to a nearby neighborhood.
Cimafranca now co-heads the network’s volunteer committee. She lives away from her family – in the donation drive headquarters – along with other youth volunteers so as to maintain seamless relief operations.
So far, they’ve been able to reach over 1,000 individuals in urban poor areas within Metro Cebu by distributing 400-500 relief bags per day.
Despite being a victim herself, Cimafranca said helping out is the least she could do after she and her family came out of the typhoon alive.
“I’m still aware of how privileged I am that my family is safe and okay because other people, dili man gud pariha nako (do not have the same situation as me). Because, they are basically living on the streets and imagine them during the typhoon… there are people nga wala na gyu’y nahibilin sa ilang balay (that do not have homes anymore),” she said.
“They need help the most because most of them don’t have houses anymore,” she added.
She said she also saw the urgency from the local government’s slow pace in distributing basic goods to residents.
“Second, I can see the lack of help. The aid given to residents is not enough. Even local government units were not able to distribute relief goods to people in need,” Cimafranca said in Cebuano.
Her father visits her regularly in the donation drive headquarters. She said he brings her basic necessities and through him, she can get updates of how her family is doing.
She told Rappler that she will soon be reunited with her family when the donation drive takes its pause on December 24 until the 26th.
Christmas looked grim for the rest of the island, says Cimafranca.
“You can’t celebrate knowing that there are people out there who are barely surviving… because of dehydration. Grateful ka nga imong family is okay, but you know unsa ka privileged ka sa situation (You’re grateful that your family is okay but you are also aware of the privilege you have under the current situation).”
Tap water became scarce in Cebu City, with residents lining up to bulk water suppliers since early morning due to the downed power lines.
Drinking water also became also a rarity with stocks from grocery stores and convenience stores almost completely wiped out.
While aid is only beginning to trickle in, the island still has a long way to recovery.
And aside from recovery, Cimafranca said, “for this Christmas, we are all asking for accountability.” – Rappler.com
How to donate to Alibyo Cebu Ayuda Network:
Aura Mae E.
Sta. Ana B. Aures
United Church of Christ in the Philippines
UCCP-CENDET, 85 Os