The good news, if a qualified one, is that no one died in my favorite place, which is Bicol. The bad news, if a qualified one as well, is that 40 died in the Calabarzon area, small comfort to the kin of the victims but a vast relief to the living. When Typhoon “Milenyo” struck in 2006, 200 were reported dead overnight.
I had worried about a direr pass. I was in Legazpi when Typhoon “Glenda” unleashed its fury upon it, its shrieking winds being a thing to behold. I was in my hotel room, hunched over my laptop on a desk near the glass windows when the storm struck toward 6 p.m. that night. I pushed the curtains aside and got a sudden insight into why the Greeks called the Furies the Furies. There was something grim and relentless about the winds, as though they were tearing through everything to try to get at someone with an unforgivable blood debt.
They spat columns upon columns of rain through the length of the street fronting the hotel, the tightly-bunched water at regular intervals taking on the solidity of wave upon wave of an invading army. Umbrellas, garbage and sundry objects swirled about and landed on water, which had collected rapidly on the street.
As the winds howled, the glass windows began rattling violently like a scene from a horror movie about some hellish presence. I had read accounts by those who had experienced Supertyphoon “Yolanda” at the height of its fury about glass windows shattering in hotel rooms and spewing debris at occupants, so I swiftly retreated inward into the room.
I decided to take a quick shower to go down to the lobby and pick up some news about the outside world. Lo and behold, when I got out of the shower after a few minutes, the part of my room nearest the windows had gotten flooded. Rain had seeped through the openings in the windows while the winds alternately hammered and pulled at them. I reported it to a porter outside, who had however received the same complaint from the occupants of the other rooms. It was all he could do to attend to our collective needs.
It was then that I thought: For all this, I was tremendously lucky. No, I was tremendously pampered. I thought of how it felt to face this storm while huddled in a hut or hovel with loved ones in some far-flung area of Albay. More to the point, I thought of how it felt to confront this terror near the water where many fishermen lived.
Fortunately, the storm didn’t last long. It seemed almost like a New-Year’s Eve revelry, the din rising to a crescendo after an hour or so and tapering off afterward. After about three hours, the storm was spent, a fitful quiet falling on the world by way of contrast.
Even more fortunately, or miraculously, no one died. I learned this firsthand the following day. Legazpi had lost its Internet, apart from its cable TV, in the aftermath and I was at pains to find a way to send a column to the Inquirer. I and some friends ended up in the governor’s office where a slew of radio and TV reporters, local and national, lounged about, awaiting the latest figures on casualties and extent of damage.
Albay Gov. Joey Salceda, a quite buoyant personality, held court, haranguing his staff with exaggerated impatience to apprise him of the latest development. By noontime, he would be confident enough to announce to the waiting reporters that it seemed reasonably certain that no one had died in Albay. It seemed to be the case as well, he said, in Sorsogon and the two Camarines. It was news to gladden the heart.
Salceda himself attributed it to a disaster preparedness program government had implemented vigorously particularly after Yolanda. That entailed folk living near the shore abandoning their dwelling places at the first sign of trouble and seeking higher ground. It entailed as well folk living in brittle huts repairing posthaste to evacuation centers.
This seemed to have happened during Glenda, except for a hardheaded few who insisted on taking their chances with disaster. Like the four fishermen who were reported missing but turned out to have found refuge in a more impregnable corner of the coast. This was after government had repeatedly warned fishers not to put out to sea. I myself heard those warnings as early as early morning of Tuesday on my way from Magallanes, Sorsogon, to Legazpi.
Not all is well that ends well, however. There were invisible costs to the storm as a friend gave me to glimpse by way of a casual comment. Winding our way through the streets of Legazpi, we saw the signs of the fury of the storm, debris littered on the streets, trees fallen on the roofs of houses, in some cases wrecking sections of the houses themselves. That included, with remarkable irony, the Climate Change and Disaster Risk Management Academy, a part of which had been crushed by a fallen tree. The tree’s lush branches now smothered it.
At one point, at the periphery of town, we came across a rice field where the winds of the night before had broken rice stalks and uprooted some of them. My friend grew thoughtful at the sight and said sadly: “I think many kids might be forced to quit this school year. They won’t have the money to continue to pay their tuition fees.”
Suddenly, I was transported to another world. A world where people lived fickle lives, dependent on luck or the elements or fate or God, which could turn out for the better or worse at the drop of a hat, or salakot. The
harvest could be bountiful one day and miserable the next, which could feed you well one day and starve you the next, which could send your kids to school one day and force them to scavenge the next, which could bless you with a family one day and take it away from you the next. I was transported to another world only to realize I hadn’t really moved.
The other world was the one in which we lived.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.