Typhoons test Aurora town’s resilience

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GRADE school teacher Babylin Querijero clears debris in one of the classrooms of the Casiguran Central Elementary School in Aurora that was destroyed by Typhoon “Labuyo” last week. RAFFY LERMA

Relief workers bringing food to the typhoon-stricken town of Casiguran in Aurora province last week might have seen Adalberto Buena, 73, smiling wistfully as he sat near his shattered house in Barangay (village) Tinin.

Hearing-impaired Buena was lying wide awake on his white mattress and might not have heard the howling wind from the sea that destroyed his shack on Aug. 12, said his daughter, Mercy Buena-Molina.

“We were all prepared for the storm but my father decided to stay here alone. My mother (Isabel, 76) was with relatives nearby because she suffered a mild stroke and had just returned from a Manila hospital. When the house fell apart around him, my father struggled through the rains to reach us across the road,” Molina said.

The strong, whirling winds brought about by Typhoon “Labuyo” also tore up Molina’s old house, which her father built for her in 1972. But her damaged house was already a wooden carcass by Aug. 15, its salvageable poles cannibalized to fix her present dwelling. Only the pet hog lingered there, watching Buena stare calmly at the horizon.

“My father is not smiling because he survived. He is looking forward to see what we will rebuild out of this rubble. This was a pretty strong storm, but we will raise a new home here. We always do,” Molina said.

Labuyo was not the first strong storm to hit Casiguran this year. Many more storms will visit Aurora, so life goes on for Casiguran, which lies along a typhoon belt, Vice Mayor Lordan Roxas said.

No cavalier attitude

Don’t mistake that for a cavalier attitude, however. “We know the weather,” Roxas said, so Casiguran folk rarely sleep when the typhoon season sets in.

Each time storm warnings are raised, people bundle up while the government equips the town warehouse with 200 extra bags of palay because everyone expects to survive through the worst weather, he said.

Another survivor, Tommy Perillo, 22, found himself stuck in the waters on Aug. 12 to protect fish cages owned by a company operating at the Aurora Pacific Economic Zone and Freeport.

“I thought it would be a mild storm. But the winds tore up our floating shelter at 1 a.m. [on Aug. 12], and me and my coworker (Albert Torre) spent hours clinging to water drums until 4:45 a.m.,” said Perillo, who had cuts all over his arms.

The town’s Agta community survives the onslaughts of storms by seeking shelter in its mangrove forests, and their actions during Labuyo’s onslaught are no different.

“We ran to the bakatan (mangroves or coastal forest), all 38 families in my clan. We submerged ourselves in a lubak (shallow mud) so we won’t be carried by the wind,” Louigie Prado said, breaking the news of their survival by calling through the mobile telephone of Fr. Joefran Talaban, the town’s parish priest.

Dangers

In the bosom of the mangroves, they faced dangers because the water level rose due to severe rains and strong waves from the Pacific Ocean, he said.

“My one-year-old daughter was trembling with cold. What I did was draw my urine and pour it on her to warm her body,” Prado said.

He said his group left the mountains of Barangay Cozo on the night of Aug. 11 because the elders anticipated landslides due to logging at the upper flanks.

In olden times, the Agta people sheltered themselves in hollow trunks of trees.

“Our original plan was to evacuate to the core houses at the [Apeco] since these were made of concrete but then we saw our fellow Agtas rushing out of those because the units crumbled and the roofs were blown away,” Prado said.

Lone fatality

In fact, the only Casiguran fatality in the recent storm was a stranger who docked near the town when Labuyo’s strong winds battered the community.

All told, at least 32 people were hurt during the storm while 453 houses were destroyed and 2,284 other structures were damaged, Talaban said, citing initial estimates provided by the local government.

Farm damage had been placed at P18 million, hurting the town’s coconut trade, but by Aug. 15, farmers chopped down damaged trees, burned debris and hauled out the mature coconuts they could find in trucks to sell to markets outside the province.

Rice harvest is still months away, so most of the rice farms will be replenished, the municipal government said.

Government workers took a couple of days to remove debris from landslides along the Baler-Casiguran coastal highway that had isolated Casiguran, Dinalungan and Dilasag towns.

Back to normal

The relatively new roads helped speed up the delivery of relief to these towns. By that time, life in Casiguran was slowly returning to normal. Powered by generators, shops were opened for business, including a motorcycle dealership.

Electricity may not be back for months because almost all of the power lines toppled last week. These now serve as clotheslines for roadside residents, like Estrella Ledesma, who was waiting for her husband to call from Mindanao.

Good news

 

Amid the tragedy, some good news also emerged.

Two newborn babies greeted the Casiguran hospital staff on Aug. 15.

Rice farmer Armando Santos married Rosalie Guerrero, secretary of Barangay Dos, at the San Antonio de Padua Church also on Aug. 15, unmindful of the gaping hole above the altar.

It was torn open by debris hurled there three days earlier by Labuyo, but Santos said he had already scheduled the wedding.

Besides, his brother said, the wedding could not be considered bad luck.

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