Typhoons are ‘nothing new’ to the townsfolk of Villaba, a coastal municipality situated in western Leyte.
“Typhoons are really part of our lives, especially as we are facing the sea,” Myrna Ombajen, a local market vendor explains.
Yet Super Typhoon Yolanda proved another experience entirely, she explains.
“The strength of Yolanda was way beyond our expectations. The sound of the wind was like a helicopter. Cars were being thrown through the air. The market was damaged, my house was damaged,” she remembers.
‘Like a ghost town’
“After Yolanda, our municipality was like a ghost town,” Gino V. Esmero, a local DSWD worker, explains.
“After Yolanda, there was nothing green left, as almost all the trees and plants had been damaged,” Mayor Jorge V. Veloso says. “The mountains had been stripped of everything. Everything was brown and muddy.”
“Almost all of the houses were damaged. Debris, trash and mud were everywhere. When the people saw that their houses were damaged, they either cried or screamed out in despair,” Gino added.
The DSWD office is situated within the civic center, which served as an evacuation center during the disaster.
“Those who evacuated there hid under the bleachers when the strong winds stripped the roof away, piece by piece,” Mayor Jorge added.
Afterwards, local staff used tarpaulins as makeshift shelter. Often, it would first rain, then flood. However, until repairs could begin, they could only make do in the terrible conditions.
Rebuilding, repairing, recovering
The municipality would receive assistance from a number of local government and international aid agencies.
“Our municipal building, market and (civic center) were repaired through the RAY DILG fund,” Mayor Jorge explains. “Once the roof and ceiling of the civic center was repaired, it could again function as it once did.”
The civic center provides a vital venue for local community and government activities. “We use it for our fiesta activities and for basketball tournaments. Our schools are also using it for their induction activities and high school orientation programs. For us in DSWD, we use it as our venue for our trainings and orientation seminars,” Gino says.
‘We are making progress’
As Myrna explains, “we are still recovering.”
“Many people continue to experience trauma, since Yolanda,” she says. Then of course, Typhoon Ruby arrived. As soon as we heard, many were scared: after all, we were still recovering from Yolanda at the time.”
Yet in the year since Yolanda, attitudes towards preparation, evacuation and post-disaster relief had changed considerably. “When we heard about Ruby, we instantly secured our belongings. We wrapped everything in plastic especially the documents in our office,” Gino says.
“I estimate that around eighty percent of the people here have now since recovered, after Yolanda and Ruby,” he adds. “Yet some are still fixing their houses, and making efforts to improve their livelihood. It’s not an easy recovery, because most of the people doesn’t have money to repair their houses completely. It will still take time, but we are making progress.”