CATEEL, Philippines (AlertNet) – Rasul Reyes left his home seven weeks ago when Typhoon Bopha hit the southern Philippine island of Mindanao and destroyed his home. After two weeks on higher ground a few kilometres away, his family returned to patch up their home with tarpaulins.
Then early Sunday, Reyes and his family fled again, after days of heavy rains and strong winds swelled the Cateel River, flooding communities along the riverbank, including Reyes’ home in the village of San Miguel.
“We are very afraid,” he told AlertNet, from the same plot of land where he had sought refuge the first time, along with several others who are again displaced. “We don’t know when we can go back.”
Unpredictable weather and the sheer scale of devastation wreaked by Bopha last month are challenging relief agencies as they help survivors recover.
The latest bout of heavy rains had begun Friday and did not let up for nearly 48 hours, destroying parts of the only bridge that crosses the Cateel River and links Cateel and Baganga, two municipalities in Davao Oriental province that were among the hardest hit by Bopha. Some heavy vehicles were forced to turn back.
Weather extremes - blazing heat when there’s no rain - have also worsened living and health conditions for hundreds of thousands of people displaced and stuck in inadequate shelter.
“The weather is slowing aid agencies down and even the government,” said Paul del Rosario, Humanitarian Programme Coordinator in the Philippines for Oxfam, which is working with the Humanitarian Response Consortium, a group of local aid agencies.
“For example, the construction of temporary bunkhouses has been very much delayed because of the continuous rains, but we just do what we need to do, for the sake of the disaster survivors.”
CANCELED AID DISTRIBUTIONS
One aid delivery truck came back with leftover goods on Saturday, possibly because the weather prevented survivors from showing up, said Alexander Mikadze, Relief/Recovery Delegate for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).
“Another distribution was canceled due to the heavy rain,” Mikadze said.
Furthermore, survivors are facing an uncertain future with their livelihoods upended after tens of thousands of hectares of coconut fields suffered damage from Bopha.
The most intense storm to hit disaster-prone Philippines in 2012, Typhoon Bopha struck Mindanao on Dec. 4, killing more than 1,000 people and affecting millions. It flooded farming and mining towns and buried many people in mudslides. More than 800 remain missing.
In Davao Oriental’s coastal communities, homes and livelihoods were almost completely obliterated.
Uprooted and broken coconut trees line the roads. Much of the debris, except a few stray logs, has been cleared from the roads, while the remains of homes and farms were scattered across the area.
Hills are littered with fallen trees, while the few trees left standing are bereft of leaves.
Some villages have become a sea of blue and white tarpaulins and tents providing much-needed shade and shelter from the unrelenting weather.
“END OF THE WORLD”
Alicia de los Santos said her family, including an 11-month-old grandson, hid under the table as Bopha tore off the roof of her house in Barangay Mainit, a village in Cateel.
“We heard the warning on TV that a storm was coming,” the 54-year-old told AlertNet. However, the family decided to stay because there was no forced evacuation for the area. They had never experienced such a bad storm.
“We thought it was the end of the world,” said de los Santos, holding her grandson in a one-bedroom wooden structure the government and the United Nations provided her some three weeks after the typhoon made her home uninhabitable.
Almost every house in the village was partially or totally destroyed, forcing hundreds of people to congregate on a small plot of land that was not covered in debris. While de los Santos and 168 others received wooden shelters, others are in long, white tents.
A health officer at the village said the harsh weather worsened existing health problems such as fevers, coughs and colds, especially among children.
De los Santos and her husband still have farmland, but their coconuts are gone. She worries that continuing to farm coconuts for a living will be impossible.
Without an income, they are unable to repair their home, and so are stuck in the temporary shelter, where they share the one room and bed. Whenever a strong wind blows, they hunker down.
“We’re afraid that more typhoons will come. We get worried especially if there’s wind,” she said. “Last night, there was strong wind and we thought it was another storm.”