TACLOBAN – A year after losing all their belongings to one of the world’s strongest storms, thousands of weary people in the Philippines emerged from evacuation shelters on Sunday (Dec 7) to find their homes again in ruins.
Typhoon Hagupit hit the central Philippines late on Saturday with gusts of 210 kilometres an hour, destroying flimsy houses, tearing roofs off others, knocking down power poles and smashing bridges. During a terrifying night, it cut across Tacloban city and dozens of other communities that were only just starting to recover from last year’s catastrophic Super Typhoon Haiyan.
“We were on edge the entire night because the winds were so strong. We could see roofs flying,” 39-year-old peanut vendor and Haiyan survivor Vicente Roquero told AFP at an evacuation centre in Tacloban on Leyte island.
Haiyan’s monster winds and tsunami-like storm surges claimed more than 7,350 lives, and left more than one million people on central Philippine islands in need of new and safe homes.
Hagupit, which was due to take three days to cut across the Philippines, did not generate the massive storm surges that claimed so many lives last year in the central Philippines. Mass evacuations before it arrived also helped to ensure there was no repeat of the mass casualties in the areas devastated by Haiyan.
“There is a collective sigh of relief,” Jerry Yaokasin, vice mayor of Tacloban, a city of 220,000 people that was one of the worst-hit last year, told AFP. “The initial assessment is that there are no casualties. We were better prepared… up to 50,000 people were packed in evacuation centres.”
But many people – who have since Haiyan lived in tents, temporary shelters and shanty homes – again faced the trauma of losing their homes. “The temporary houses destroyed by the typhoon is our big problem right now… our biggest challenge is how to provide for those who were displaced because of that,” Yaokasin said.
After losing her coastal shanty home to the storm surges of Haiyan, Maria Anna Alvarez, 34, had been barely surviving – living with a dozen other relatives on the outskirts of Tacloban in a tent provided by an aid agency.
She returned from an evacuation centre on Sunday morning to see the tent, and those of 300 other families living nearby, destroyed. “We were hoping for a merry Christmas… but it looks like that wish won’t come true,” Alvarez said. “Nothing was left of our place, but we have no choice but to be resilient… the important thing is we’re alive.”
Tereso Sano, a 42-year-old unemployed driver, said he would start rebuilding the home nearby he shared with seven others as soon as the winds subsided. “It’s a difficult feeling, knowing you don’t have a roof above your head,” Sano told AFP.