Appeal from Cagayan
Government spokespeople have made it a point to stress that the country “does not need” foreign aid in the wake of the destruction caused by Typhoon “Lawin” (international name Haima). Initially “billed” a supertyphoon, Lawin weakened into a Category 4 typhoon when it hit land two weeks ago. So far, government reports cite “only” 15 dead in the areas hit by Lawin, certainly a far cry from the thousands killed by Superyphoon “Yolanda” (Haiyan) in 2013.
But for the people in Northern Luzon, particularly Cagayan Valley and the nearby province of Isabela and the Cordillera Administrative Region, Lawin was far from a benign visitor. A report in a foreign newspaper described the scene thus:
“[The typhoon] ripped the roofs off well-constructed buildings and stripped the leaves and branches off trees. It completely destroyed less sturdy homes and businesses. It inundated saturated soil with over a foot of rain and pushed rivers into neighborhoods.”
Most of the reports, the Washington Post said, came out of Tuguegarao, the capital of Cagayan. “Trees are down, buildings are decimated—and this city is well inland. It did not endure the worst of Typhoon Haima, by far.”
Indeed, an observer says that from the air, Tuguegarao “looks like it survived a bombing,” so great and widespread was the damage to infrastructure. The provincial government said “it is possible that 100 percent of houses [in the city] were either partially or fully damaged,” and even the roof of Cagayan Gov. Manuel Mamba’s house was blown away.
And it seems Tuguegarao suffered comparatively mild effects from the typhoon.
In Peñablanca, Fr. Hugo Agabao, parish priest of Our Mother of Perpetual Help, says the town is still isolated more than a week after Lawin howled through it. Located east of Tuguegarao, Peñablanca is best known as the home of Callao Cave, one of the province’s best-known attractions.
The isolation of large parts of the town is due to the damage and destruction of two bridges that serve as links to the rest of the province: Tawi Bridge, which was completely inundated, and Cabbo Bridge, which sustained some damage.
Father Agabao is gravely concerned about the welfare of 148 families whom he considers “the poorest of the poor,” with no resources to count on. Though some relief goods have arrived via motorboats, he says, most of these have come through private NGOs and donors. He also appeals for donations of GI sheets and nails, to rebuild roofs destroyed by Lawin and which the residents badly need in the face of the continuous rains.
Governor Mamba airs the same appeal for building materials. Much of the damage in Cagayan was due to Lawin’s high winds, he says, adding: “It has been by far the strongest typhoon to hit Cagayan. Even the old folks here say they have seen nothing like it.”
More than 25,000 houses were completely destroyed as a consequence of the typhoon, and some 93,000 sustained partial damage, says Mamba. But he complains that shelter assistance has been slow in coming, with only a trickle of the necessary funds needed for rebuilding and rehabilitation released by the national government.
“Maybe it’s because only four people died in Cagayan,” said the governor, in an attempt to explain why official response at the national level has been so slow.
“We really prepared to survive this typhoon,” he recalls. “Four days before Lawin hit land, I appealed over the media for people to prepare. I even asked all the churches to open their doors to the victims. We did preemptive evacuation for some 32,000 residents.” But there was no possible preparation for the wind gusts that blew off roofs and brought down houses.
Maybe that’s why Mamba is now airing an appeal to international organizations to join the relief and rehabilitation effort for Cagayan, despite pronouncements from the Duterte administration that there is no need for outside assistance.
“All we have been receiving are pledges of aid, but very little actual help that we can use to rebuild our province has reached us,” says the governor. Rhetoric about independence is well and good, but sometimes, a country could use a little help from friends.
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