We count the number of lives lost, but we ignore the hundreds of thousands of survivors whose lives are reduced to hopeless misery. This about sums up our country’s concern and capacity for compassion whenever a natural calamity devastates a part of it.
Packing winds of 185 kilometers per hour near the center and gustiness of 305 kph, Typhoon “Ompong” caused a wide swath of devastation in northern Luzon on Sept. 15. The provinces that bore the brunt of destruction are Cagayan and Isabela (its northern part). The Cordillera and Ilocos regions also sustained severe losses.
Ompong came at a time when Cagayan and northern Isabela have yet to totally recover from the enormous destruction and economic dislocation caused by Typhoon “Lawin” two years ago. “Only” 10 people are reported to have died in Cagayan during Ompong’s onslaught, but the destitution the typhoon brought to the province is heartrending.
Charito Llapitan resides in the town of Baggao where Ompong made landfall. She narrated that the strongest wind and rain she had ever experienced in her life howled for a horrifying stretch of 12 hours. She said all she could do was pray and weep while her house creaked and groaned for what seemed like eternity; a part of her roof was blown away and the part that remained was under continuous threat of getting unhinged and flying off. It is Charito’s personal knowledge that in just six of Baggao’s 48 barangays, the typhoon demolished 649 houses and destroyed all corn and rice crops. Virtually all the trees fell down, and the very few left standing were completely stripped of leaves.
Caridad Vergara lives in the town of Alcala, which was also directly hit by Ompong. She recounted how very strong winds pummeled her town for 18 hours and how she thought she was going to die when the roofs of three of her neighbors’ houses were blown off, all landing in her backyard. She now wonders how her community of corn farmers would survive, with their crops totally destroyed and the farm input loans that they have to pay on 5 to 7 percent interest per month. They also have to scrounge for funds to rebuild their houses, and they are now dependent on food relief donations.
Tuguegarao City was not in Ompong’s direct path but Sheryl Cruz and its other residents were not spared from its terror.
Sheryl said she almost lost her husband and a child to the strong winds that ripped off their roof, forcing the family to seek refuge in a neighbor’s house. She weeps uncontrollably at the recollection of the frightening hours of the typhoon. Her two children—8 and 9 years old—appear to have been traumatized by the experience, covering their ears at a sudden gust of wind.
Only a handful perished in Cagayan, true. It is a testament to its people’s resilience. But for the hundreds of thousands who survived, the frank question is: What kind of life will they now be forced to endure? Beyond the people’s survival of the storm, no one is highlighting the aftermath—their homes destroyed, their farms and crops ruined, and their future saddled with usurious loans.
To get an idea of the wretched fate of the survivors, to find empathy in their dire straits, urban residents should imagine losing both their home and the company that pays their salary.
The government must embark on an emergency feeding program because many survivors are facing dire hunger. And then funds must quickly be made available to help the survivors rebuild their houses and replant their farms.
In times like these, the government’s propensity to passively wait for survivors to practically beg for aid must be ditched, rigid conformity to formal rules must be waived, and public personnel must proactively go to the barangays to address the people’s needs and assist them in getting back on their feet.
We mourn the lives lost, but we must race against time to save those who survived but who now face devastated lives.
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Inquirer calls for support for the victims of typhoon Ompong
Responding to appeals for help, the Philippine Daily Inquirer is extending its relief to victims of the recent typhoon Ompong.
Cash donations may be deposited in the Inquirer Foundation Corp. Banco De Oro (BDO) Current Account No: 007960018860 and Swift Code: BNORPHMM.
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