DAVAO ORIENTAL—All seven passengers in the van-for-hire the Inquirer took in Mati City on Thursday had the same thing in mind—to reach either Baganga or Cateel.
Bancas were already made available to transport people and motorcycles across Manurigao River, where a bridge collapsed at the height of Typhoon “Pablo” on Tuesday morning.
“I’m worried about my family,” said Jessa, who requested that her last name not be used.
She traveled four hours from Davao City to Mati City and would travel some four hours more to get home to Barangay (village) Lambajon in Baganga town.
“I was informed our house was hit by a coconut tree,” she said.
Another passenger said she was carrying food, as she had been informed her family was growing hungry by the day.
“The last text message I received from my sister was that they were fine, but were already out of food,” she said.
There was no way for the two women to check out the information because telecommunication lines remained down since Tuesday morning.
The chitchat continued. This time, about the devastation and deaths caused by Pablo. But talk of the disaster was punctuated by “sabi daw” (to mean reportedly).
What really happened
But the ride to Baganga, which passed through the towns of Tarragona, Manay and Caraga, showed them what really happened.
Along the road in Tarragona were fallen trees. The drive through Manay town offered a similar view. But when the group reached Caraga town, they saw more fallen trees, damaged houses and a roofless town hall.
“That’s only a preview,” the van driver said. His passengers suddenly fell silent.
The group reached the cut-in-half Baogo Bridge in Caraga. For P50 each, people can cross the river on bancas and finally reach Baganga.
On the other side of the river, public vans and motorcycles waited for passengers.
There, too, waited the real horror.
In the coastal barangay of Baculin in Baganga town, trees lined the highway. Electric posts were down; cut cables littered the road.
Farther from the shore, up to the mountainside, were more fallen trees scattered all about like matchsticks.
Farther into Baganga town, more makeshift tents were set up by the roadside, just a few meters from houses destroyed by fallen trees. The houses had collapsed, as if crushed by giants.
Jessa, the van passenger, was right about her fears. Her village, Lambajon, was also hit hard. One of the houses with fallen trees leaning on them could be hers.
The sight at the town center of Baganga was even more disheartening. The school building looked like it had been clobbered by a dozen wrecking balls; the municipal gym had crumpled like a tin can; the town hall had lost its roof. And more houses had been destroyed.
In one village, people lined up in a makeshift stall to buy water—sold at P60 per liter.
Trees fell simultaneously
Some 30 kilometers farther, in the coastal village of Bajo, which borders Baganga and Cateel, a hill was littered with hundreds of fallen coconut trees—as if someone had done a very bad job of making crop circles.
“The trees fell simultaneously,” said Rafael Adiadar, 66, who lives with his wife just below the hill.
Adiadar, whose house was turned upside down when Pablo whipped through the province, said it took a few ticks of the clock for the gushing wind to topple the trees.
“The strong wind came from the sea. Moments later, it came back from the mountain. That’s when the trees fell down,” he said.
“We could hear them hit the ground,” he added.
In Cateel proper, the concrete arch was without the usual screaming banners. Typhoon wind had torn them away. The acacia trees that lined the road did not have leaves, only branches lifted up to the sky, as if in prayer.
Makeshift tents, some of them made from woven coconut leaves, lined the roadside.
The government’s district hospital—now without a roof, its wall blown away and flooded—had been condemned.
Outside, two government officials attended to injured people. In a corner was a table full of medicines, serving as the hospital’s pharmacy.
Too many people were seeking medical attention, making it a practically impossible job for the two doctors.
The town center was a picture of utter chaos, with debris scattered all over. The commercial district was quite different from what it was before as buildings had collapsed. Those still standing had no roofs. The municipal hall, too, had lost its roof. So had the church across it. The police station was flooded. Only the flagpole remained standing at Cateel Cental Elementary. People were outside, sitting among the piles of debris from what used to be their homes.
In Barangay Maribojoc, about 2 kilometers from the town center, stood a house fronting the Pacific Ocean. It had lost its ceiling and some walls. Residents used to call it the “mansion” of Gov. Corazon Malanyaon.
Across the highway was a former community of 100 houses. There, Leopolda Casina, 48, started to build a shanty from typhoon debris, weaving coconut leaves for a roof.
“We’re equal,” Casina said when asked how she felt about the governor’s house being damaged by the typhoon.
Nothing for dinner
Traveling back to Mati City at sundown, the Inquirer saw Adiadar burying the last of four wooden posts that would serve as the foundation of his makeshift home.
“I can still use some parts of my old house,” he said.
Along the road in Baganga town, residents gathered outside their tents. No one was preparing dinner.
“There is nothing to cook,” they chorused when asked by the Inquirer why they were not preparing food although dinner time beckoned.