TARRAGONA, Davao Oriental—The sound of the wind coming from the Pacific Ocean at 3 a.m. was so horrible that residents of this coastal town thought the sky was ripping apart.
Curious and terrified, the residents could see only the dark horizon.
The sounds of trees crashing to the ground, houses and objects toppling, the crying of children and women were all muted by the howling wind.
By this time, the electricity went off, worsening the darkness that had already engulfed the town.
The sun showed up several hours later, shedding light on the devastation that was everywhere.
“I’ve lived here all my life and I am now 45, but I have not experienced anything like this before,” Sonny Tadanon, a fisherman and a father of nine, said at the evacuation center in the town proper here. Tadanon recounted how he saw debris flying all over town.
“It was really unexpected,” he said.
His brother’s wife, Nelfa, 41, said that when she returned to the village after the typhoon, all she could see was the ugly sight that typhoon Pablo had left behind. “We were just fortunate that we were spared from harm,” she said.
But others were not as lucky.
Dozens of people died in the province, according to Fred Bendulo, the provincial planning and development officer.
“These reports came from our social welfare personnel, but we could not verify it as the towns of Cateel, Boston and Baganga were totally cut off,” he said, adding that roads were damaged and bridges had collapsed.
The devastation was so extensive that Gov. Corazon Malanyaon wept.
“When I gave her the initial briefing later in the day, she could not believe what she just heard and she began weeping,” Bendulo said.
Malanyaon later told the Philippine Daily Inquirer that even she was so scared when the strong wind hit Mati.
“I felt that it was going to put Mati down. I was also so scared, especially at the thought that many of those in the coastal areas were in a more precarious situation,” she said.
What added to her burden, Malanyaon said, was that some people insisted on staying in their houses even when told to evacuate.
Malanyaon said the devastation that Pablo brought to the province was only one of the major concerns.
She said many people lost their livelihood as a result and people could be pushed deeper into poverty. “I cannot make the assurance that the province can take care all of their problems,” she said.
In New Bataan, one of the hardest-hit areas in Southern Mindanao, disbelief was etched at every face the Inquirer saw.
It was as if they were still trying to piece together the events that led to the massive devastation and deaths around them.
Outside the public gymnasium, villagers waited as news about their missing kin, neighbors and acquaintances came in trickles.
When a military truck ferrying rescued injured villagers, a mixed feeling was all too evident as residents stood up in anticipation of seeing somebody close to their hearts.
Seven-year old Imee Sayson was among those barely breathing when plucked out of the mud by rescuers.
“She was fortunately found by rescuers, but her father, Rommel, and her brother Ayel are still missing,” Red Cross volunteer Vic Paulo Bandong said.
Imee was suffering from hypothermia, Bandong said.
When the Philippine Daily Inquirer tried to ask her questions, her only response was: “Kaihion ko (I’d like to take a leak).”
Among those still looking for relatives on Wednesday was Juniper Serato, who counts at least six family members, including his parents—Flavianas and Isaias—and sister Shiela, as among the missing.
Soon, cadavers came in batches—some still unrecognizable because of the dirt and mud that covered them.
“I had difficulty recognizing the faces because the bodies are bloated,” he said, pointing to several dead bodies that were laid on the ground. Some were starting to stink from being in the water for several hours.
“I am so worried now,” he said, apparently holding back his emotions.
According to Bandong, rescuers lacked vehicles to transport affected individuals to evacuation centers and the bodies to a place where residents can identify them.
As of Wednesday afternoon, the death toll in the town was at 79, based on the tally released by the New Bataan government.