KARA Ahorro clearly recalls the traumatic memory of experiencing the wrath of Typhoon Odette, a category 5 typhoon that slammed into the island of Siargao in the early afternoon of December 16.
When the typhoon came, Kara, with her live-in partner Gani Rupido, was just inside their house in General Luna. The couple decided not to evacuate.
“It was forecasted to be just 150 kph at its peak, We were here during Yolanda and that was 300 plus kph, though Yolanda did not made landfall in Siargao, we just thought ‘ah, kaya lang’ (we can handle it),” Kara said.
But then Odette had intensified into Category 5, one of the strongest typhoons to hit the country in recent years.
Kara recalls the day when they felt the fury of the Category 5 typhoon.
“At 1:53 p.m., nag zero visibility na sa lakas ng hangin and kasamang tubig kaya kahit saan tamaan ng hangin basa talaga pati loob ng bahay kung open ang bintana (It went zero visibility because of strong winds which carried water, that is why wherever you will be hit by the wind you will get soaked including the inside of houses if the windows are open),” Kara recounts the powerful winds that struck the island.
They decided to open their windows to minimize breakage, as the winds will just flow in and out of the house. They also secured their appliances. Their house was located on an elevated portion along the hillside so they felt secured from an anticipated storm surge.
“Five out of the six mango trees in the property got uprooted, hindi lang siya nabali (it wasn’t just broken) but it got ripped off from the ground. One fell after the other in a matter of minutes then followed by the coconut trees, they became like pick-up sticks lying on the ground,” Kara said.
“Our neighbor’s second floor disappeared and the other house was where the second mango tree fell. Inside the house was a child but luckily she was in the room as their living room was where the tree fell, she had to crawl out of the felled branches to exit their house,” she added.
As all of their nearest neighbors were women, Kara’s live-in partner, famed tattoo artist Gani took it upon himself to check on their neighbors even during the peak of the typhoon.
“We saw how their houses were getting eaten by the minute, Gani went to check on them. He wore helmets and boots, he just said ‘bahala na daw (Whatever happens),’” Kara vividly remembers the horrifying scene.
The island as home
Kara was one of those young urbanites enthralled by the allure of Siargao and who have made the island their home.
Since 2010, the Dabawenya who owned and operated a rock and reggae bar in Davao City has been going back and forth to the island accompanying Gani who has been a constant visitor since 2007.
“In 2016 we decided to leave the city, give up the bar and settle on the island permanently,” Kara said.
In the island, she worked for an online company until she gave up when tourism peaked in the island and the internet connection could not cope with the increasing population and business activity in Siargao. She managed one of the island’s bigger surfing shops until the Covid-19 pandemic and the tourism industry died out.
“One of the BPO’s (Business Process Outsourcing) that has branches in Davao and Iloilo then opened a site here since the cities were crippled too and were at a 50% capacity. The owner of that BPO company owns a resort here so he converted some of their villas as offices. I was employee number 2 and working as a Client Success Manager. We just very recently transferred to our new building! Then Odette came!” the 39-year-old said.
“GL (General Luna) was flattened - even high end resorts weren’t spared. Those at the beachfront took a lot of impact like it was one huge pile of trash,” Kara describes the scene in General Luna, one of the towns in Siargao and where they had established a home on the island.
“Almost all roads were impassable because of the fallen trees. We had to climb over, crawl under branches and trunks. It took several days before they began clearing. There was rubble everywhere. Mga bangka nasa gitna na ng kalsada, yung iba nakataob ( boats were in the middle of the road, some were overturned),” she described the streetscape after Odette.
She said at first people could afford to laugh at their misfortune and during the third day it just sank in. “Siyempre may mga lumong-lumo talaga and confused and shocked (Of course there were who got depressed, confused and shocked),” Kara said.
She also described a sort of post-apocalyptic island after Odette’s angry visit.
“We were totally off the grid. No electricity - mas maraming poste na natumba kesa sa nag-survive (there were more posts that fell compared to those standing). Electric wires and cables were strewn everywhere. No signal. No data. Water galing sa balon (from the well). Kala namin kawawa ang GL (We thought GL was pitiful), when we were able to start with relief ops and saw the northern part of the island, mas heartbreaking pa. Their villas and houses were totally gone! Concrete walls fell. Malala! (worse),” Kara said.
Kara says with news of another coming storm, there was no time to spare, so the people started to rebuild.
“Those who had the means, immediately started to reuse materials and do band aid fixes as we were all anticipating another weather disturbance to come. We had no signal so no way to confirm - people were saying it’s another strong one but it’s just an LPA (Low Pressure Area),” Kara said.
Those whose homes were completely destroyed squeezed in with their relatives whose homes were still in good condition or had minor damages.
She said the lack of potable water was a problem in the island during the aftermath of the calamity. Though the native islanders or old-timers can handle an island without electricity, it also left many people without cash or means to buy essentials as ATMs and credit cards were rendered useless.
“Stores did not release water anymore. It was just allotted for their own family’s consumption. There was diarrhea and reports of leptospirosis cases after the first week,” she describes the water shortage problem in the island.
Kara said Odette did not spare a soul. “People From all walks of life were hit by the typhoon. We were even shocked that those people we expected to be ready for it or who could handle it were much affected halos di mo na makausap ng matino (you almost cannot talk to them clearly).
She says everybody is hopeful as they can feel a sense of community.
“There are greedy ones for sure but they are just a few and karma will just take care of them,” she said.
On the ground, help is coming their way with relief goods coming to the island. She lamented that the efforts of private individuals and groups are more felt than the local government.
Kara along with friends in the island and in Davao City are conducting fundraising efforts as there is a huge need for repair and construction materials.
“Di naman makakagalaw ang mga tao ng maayos kung walang saktong pahinga. Basa-basa yung bahay mo araw-araw, o babad sa init, pano kaya yun? (People cannot move properly if they do not have proper rest, your house is soaked wet, or you are exposed to the sun. How can you do it?),” Kara said of the fundraising focus on the immediate reconstruction of the affected homes in the island.
Kara is one of the many Dabawenyos who have initiated relief efforts to the island and other Odette-affected areas in the country.
The City Government of Davao for one has dispatched aid to the island in the form of 10,000 food packs donated by Dabawenyos through the Pahalipay system embedded in the Safe Davao QR code. Nearly 92,000 Dabawenyos have donated through the QR system (as of 2 p.m., Jan. 6).
Meanwhile, the Office of Civil Defense 11 (OCD-11) has encouraged the citizens to send in relief donations through the Regional Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council 11 (RDRRMC).
“Some of the items needed by the communities are water, shelter kits, GI sheets, temporary tents, solar panels, and food,” OCD-11 Assistant Regional Director Lenie Duran-Alegre enumerated the priority items needed in the Odette-stricken areas. (PIA-Davao)