Grief and gratitude
It’s a time to be thankful and to mourn, a time for grief and for gratitude. Typhoon “Nona” (international name “Melor”) has come and gone, striking so close to Christmas and adding to the general misery brought by drought, severe traffic—and the stars of the election season. Its passage made many things possible: disruption of life (death and injury), devastation (damage to homes, rice fields and roads), but also plenitude (dams filled to bursting).
Nona, strong and slow-moving, made landfall five times. Banking on the many lessons learned from earlier disasters, the government moved to avert the damage, or at least to mitigate it: deploying resources for rescue and relief, employing preemptive, even forced, evacuation of residents in danger zones, canceling work and classes in areas in the typhoon’s path.
For all that, the costs have been considerable. The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) estimated the damage to infrastructure and agriculture at close to P1 billion—P935,192,943.51, to be exact. This figure hits the farmers particularly hard and burdens them even more, farmers being a sector that bears much of the brunt of underdevelopment. President Aquino has declared a state of national calamity on the recommendation of the NDRRMC, to give the government ample leeway in rescue, recovery, relief and rehabilitation efforts. (Earlier, states of calamity were declared in Albay, Northern Samar, Oriental Mindoro and Sorsogon.)
With sustained maximum winds of some 150 kilometers per hour, Nona dumped massive amounts of rain, causing flooding and filling the El-Niño-afflicted dams (but also endangering them, forcing the release of water that resulted in the inundation of a number of towns). Power lines in seven cities and 112 municipalities went down; four bridges and 19 roads were rendered impassable. Some 130 domestic flights were cancelled and thousands of travelers were stranded at the ports as the Philippine Coast Guard shut down most sea travel.
The casualty count as of this writing: 20 people injured and 23 dead. Three remain missing.
Despite being in Nona’s path, the Bicol region came away relatively unscathed. “We have zero floods, zero deaths, zero casualties,” Albay Gov. Joey Salceda told a news crew. (Albay has shown the way in disaster preparedness.) While one province may give thanks for being spared the typhoon’s wrath, others brought to their knees are now struggling to get back on their feet. Oriental Mindoro appears to have been the hardest hit. Six of the fatalities were from there.
Nona was a true party pooper: It cut power in the besieged provinces, darkening the festive Christmas lights and lanterns. “It will be a very sad Christmas, and a dark one because we have no power. But the important thing is everyone around me is still moving,” said rice farmer Noemi Pesigan of Bulan, Sorsogon. Just like Joseph and Mary on Christmas Eve, many Filipinos find themselves homeless and in the dark. The target, according to NDRRMC spokesperson Mina Marasigan is “to restore power by Christmas, but it will still depend on many factors.”
Indeed, it’s still a time to hunker down and wait for the worst to blow over, with yet more rains expected not only in the already-sodden provinces but also in certain parts south. Tropical Depression “Onyok” made landfall on Friday night in Davao Oriental; it is seen to weaken into a low-pressure area, but copious amounts of rain are expected in eastern, northern and central Mindanao in this last weekend before Christmas.
In the midst of the December noise and gaiety, there comes a time for deep reflection. Behind the storm clouds, one can seek the bright star, just as farmer Pesigan manages to appreciate the faint gleam of life in the dark night. Grief and gratitude are twin emotions to see the year through and to celebrate this beloved holiday—grief for loss, gratitude for salvation. At the end of the year, after the lashing of the storms and the sad wages of our daily lives, there is still much for which to be thankful.
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