Brighter prospects from the trail of tragedy - 1-A A +A
By Jun Ledesma
Wednesday, January 16, 2013
THERE is one indubitable fact behind the devastation that wiped out human habitations, farms, forests and infrastructures. There was simply no place to hide. In the aftermath we have seen the specter of how the wrath of nature claimed hundreds of lives. No amount of preparatory measures could have prevented the disaster and the destruction. Not even with the geo-hazard map being followed to the letter. Andap, New Bataan was a forest preserve as it was a prime tourist destination for Compostela Valley Province. So too was the famous Aliwagwag Falls in Davao Oriental.
The lush vegetation around these protected sites is gone and what were once idyllic are now a horrible landscape of unimaginable devastation.
The force of Typhoon Pablo was unexpectedly more intense than anyone can ever imagine. Steel pylons of telecommunication firms, concrete houses, sturdy coconut trees, and mahogany trees along the path of the killer storm were uprooted and felled while steel structures were twisted by the sheer strength and fury of the howler. I have talked to victims who survived and their horrific response was: "There is simply no place to hide."
When typhoon Pablo struck and the images of deaths and destructions started to trickle in, my initial reaction, like those of other kibitzers who were watching from the comfort of their living rooms, was one of dismay and condemnation of local officials and other government agencies.
Why have they not prepared for the impending storm? I was not alone in this rage. We thought that illegal logging and crude mining had something to do with the aggravation of what a typhoon could ravage. But when accounts of survivors filtered in I realized that in fact the local government units under the supervision of their respective provincial top executives, Gov. Chiongkee Uy of Comval and Gov. Cora Malanyaon of Davao Oriental, had in place evacuation centers where to run to in case of typhoons and floods. Andap for example was earmarked precisely because of the fortification of the forest preserve. In Cateel, a well-situated San Vicente Elementary School was to serve as the safe place for temporary abode because of its structures and natural fortification.
But typhoon Pablo was not only intractable it packed winds stronger than storm Sandy that hit New York and New Jersey and more than any typhoon that hit the Philippines in recent memory. In fact, the storm trackers are saying that it is the strongest typhoon that happened in 2012! Pablo inflicted diabolic scourge, claiming hundreds of lives of evacuees that sought shelter in Andap. In Cateel, the rooftops of the school buildings were blown and carried the distance of hundreds of meters away. By her own account, Governor Malanyaon described that the roofs and the second floor of their ancestral home were detached and carried by the whirling wind all the way to another barangay. It was a mystery that less than 400 casualties were recorded in Davao Oriental and that included many of her immediate relatives and childhood friends. Had she not stayed in Mati City where the provincial capitol was and where the command center for disaster and emergency that she supervised was, there is no telling that she too would have been among the death statistics as she was to go home to Cateel.
To their credit, both Governor Chiongkee and Malanyaon mobilized their respective rescue teams. Within minutes rescue and retrieval operations were mobilized. They heard the agony of the victims from where communications were possible. Days after the catastrophe I ambushed Malanyaon for an interview. When in the course of our exchange there was a sudden downpour the governor whom I knew to be a fighting and indefatigable woman, reacted with some fright. The trauma obviously has not left her yet.
But she quickly regained composure and able to manage a faint smile. (To be continued tomorrow)
Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on January 16, 2013.