For police inspector (PSI) Al Loren P. Bigay, like many of those in New Washington, Aklan, the sheer magnitude of Typhoon Yolanda was beyond all expectations.
Police inspector (PSI) Al Loren P. Bigay
Long since the home of the Philippine National Police (PNP) and other government agencies, the municipal building in New Washington was extensively damaged during Yolanda. “The roofing of the old municipal building was blown away, and it took months for it to be repaired,” he says.
Once again operational, the building has since been made more resilient. Painted bright orange, it is also now more visible to the public.
The newly-rehabilitated New Washington Municipal Hall
Disaster resilient, inside and out
Yet these seemingly minor physical changes are minor, when compared to the significant shifts in attitudes towards disaster prevention in the municipality.
“After Yolanda, people here are now responsive to early warnings,” Loren says. “Yet it is still a learning process. We conduct regular drills and working towards to educating the community on having their personal initiative to prepare their homes, surroundings and themselves before a typhoon arrives,” he added.
Having experienced the destruction wrought by Typhoon Frank in 2008, the people of Ibajay were proactive in their preparations for Super Typhoon Yolanda.
Long before Yolanda neared, evacuation centers had already been properly identified. Regular DRRM trainings with local communities had already taken place. Requisite equipment had been purchased, and coordination measures among local officials and the community had long since been established.
Then, five days before Yolanda was due to make landfall nearby, they mobilized and prepared.
Rodel E. Cambrian
“We followed each of the preparation stages strictly, according to procedure,” Rodel E. Cambrian explained. “We had rescue volunteers in place to help identify the evacuation centers. We involved all the local chief executives (LCE). The communication was open. Our LCEs were just a text away,” Rodel says.
‘Preparations never stop’
Due to its strategic location, the civic center served as an evacuation center during Yolanda, namely for communities from coastal and upland areas.
Ibajay Civic Center – July 2015
Yet, despite all preparations, much of the civic center could not withstand the sheer magnitude of the Category five storm: breaking all the jalousie windows before blowing off the roofing.
Yet despite these challenges, with support from RAY DILG funds, the civic center is now entirely repaired. Learning from the lessons from both calamities, the facility has since been made more resilient: jalousie windows have since been changed to awnings, while an insulator was also installed to absorb extreme heat during community activities.
Barangay Captain Jose-Rodenio Salilid
“Preparations for the next disaster never stop,” Jose-Rodenio Salilid, a local barangay captain, added.
While few could have imagined its sheer force, multiple disaster prevention measures were undertaken in Kalibo, Aklan during the lead-up to Super Typhoon Yolanda.
As the typhoon neared, four evacuation centers were quickly identified. Officials roamed the streets, equipped with sirens informing citizens to evacuate to nearby centers. Police and rescuers were immediately mobilized to help those in need: to assist with relief efforts, heavy equipment was strategically placed in the local plaza. In remote areas, barangay captains were provided with handsets to deliver vital information to central command officials.
These efforts to inform and prepare the public were especially effective, Mayor William S. Lachica explains, as many local citizens had first packed their things in plastic, before evacuating.
“The people were very cooperative,” Mayor William says. “And the people here are tulong tulong (very helpful) to one another.”
“After Yolanda we went out to every barangay ,” he explains. “We identified what had been damaged, especially homes and crops. And we thanked God that there were no casualties.”
Met with muddy water
“It was very challenging because the flood, high tide and water from the upland areas of Libacao and Madalag flowed into Kalibo, all at the same time. Our municipal hall was flooded, not with typical sea water, but with muddy water,” Mayor William shared.
The muddy flood was responsible for the most of the damage. Some houses, losing their foundations, collapsed.
Immediately, both citizens and local government officials teamed up to focus on clean-up efforts: not just in the municipal hall, but within the entire municipality.
“The people were tired – and so were we, the officials,” Mayor William remembers. “We gathered the toppled trees to clean up our roads. We dug drains that had clogged due to the mud. Though it was very tiring, we knew that we needed to clear these areas to ensure our fast recovery.”
As the community moved forward from Typhoon Yolanda, they were again challenged by the coming of Typhoons Ruby and Seniang.
The newly-rehabilitated Kalibo Municipal Hall
As a result, extra precautions were taken. “Our people had suffered trauma as result of past typhoons,” the Mayor explains. “The moment they learned about Ruby and Seniang, they packed their things, went to the evacuation centers or to their relatives who live in safer and sturdier houses. When they left their houses, they tied bamboo to the roof to ensure that it would not be easily blown off by strong winds.”
“That’s why we’d like to thank the DILG for these funds,” the Mayor added. “You can see that all the people here in Kalibo are now stable, and our the houses and our roads are now fully recovered.”
Ariel Dormido, a local market vendors, shared that even before Yolanda’s arrival, the roof of the market had been in need of repair. “Our market can accommodate us,” he explains, “but our major problem is the roofing. It was rusty with many holes in it: a problem for us during rainy season.”
Batan public market vendor Ariel Dormido
Then Super Typhoon Yolanda arrived. It blew the roofing off the building, almost entirely.
“It was very difficult post-Yolanda,” Ariel says. “We had to find ways for us to survive, and the market is our source of living. We returned to the market to sell our goods, and used rice sacks as our temporary roofing.”
Not long after, new roofing sheets, along with new drainage – funded by the RAY DILG funds – were installed as permanent replacement.
“Now we don’t worry anymore about leaks and our safety while working,” Ariel says.
Mayor Erlinda M. Maming searched for words to describe the harrowing sounds of Super Typhoon Yolanda as it neared the town of Banga, Aklan. “At my age, it was my first time to hear a crying wind,” Mayor Erlinda explained. “It was like the sound of a crying cat, only much louder.”
As Yolanda made landfall, Mayor Erlinda witnessed how the roofing of Banga civic center was blown away, piece by piece. The center, constructed largely of light materials, could not withstand the sheer force of the super typhoon. “It was unbelievable,” he said.
The newly-rehabilitated Banga Civic Center – July 2015
Two years on, the exterior of center looks almost just as it did prior to Yolanda. Inside, however, the civic center has been rebuilt with resiliency measures in mind.
“The project is very beneficial not just to our town but to our neighboring municipalities as well. Most of the social and religious activities are being done in our civic center. The funding assistance was a big help because the LGU couldn’t afford the rehabilitation project. It was not just repaired, it was strengthened to withstand future calamities, “ Mayor Erlinda added.
Before Yolanda reached their town, Mabel Marcelino and her co-vendors in the Altavas public market had struggled in the hot and cramped conditions, where she had worked for almost five years.
Altavas local market vendor Mabel Marcelino
“(Yolanda) was very strong,” Mabel explains. “It damaged the roof of the market and as a result, goods were damaged. It was especially challenging for us to work after Yolanda because every time it rained, everything would get soaked,”she added.
The repair of the public market was a big help to the vendors. The new roof means that the vendors can now move freely and display their products properly.
During the onslaught of Typhoon Frank some five years earlier, much of Aklan province was flooded, wrecking extensive damage upon riverside areas.
As a result, many in Aklan were especially prepared in the lead-up to Super Typhoon Yolanda.
“Especially those in flood-prone areas,” Galo I. Ibardolaza explains, the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management (PDRRM) Executive Officer of Aklan Province. “Many of the people evacuated on their own accord. This was a great difference to what took place during Typhoon Frank.”
Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management (PDRRM) Executive Officer of Aklan Province, Galo I. Ibardolaza
Local disaster risk teams also prepared extensively.
“One week beforehand, we monitored the situation 24/7,” Galo explains. “We studied the impact it may cause to the province of Aklan, and prepared ourselves.”
These early preparations were seen to save lives in the province.
“During Frank we had 62 casualties, but when Yolanda came – which was much stronger than Frank – we had 14 deaths, with six of these due to earlier sicknesses and heart attack,” Galo explains. “From (these figures) alone, we can see that the people of Aklan were more prepared.”
Challenges arose as the local civic center – itself an evacuation center – was badly damaged during Yolanda, especially the roof and windows.
With support from RAY DILG funds, “the repairs were completed almost immediately,” Galo says. “From jalousie windows, we had them changed to aluminum, which can better withstand future calamities.”
As a result, the civic center is now a safer and more resilient space in which to hold provincial activities. Yet while it remains an identified evacuation center, some challenges and opportunities for improvement remain.
The newly-rehabilitated Aklan Province Civic Center – July 2015.
“It is still not an ideal evacuation center,” Galo says. “We all know what an ideal evacuation center is – one with a room for breastfeeding mothers, a playground for children and a decent place to sleep. I really hope that the national government could address these concerns because it will be very helpful to the Aklanons.1
1. The DILG has since partnered with Australian Volunteers for International Development (AVID) to release the Build Back Better Operations Manual, designed to address the needs of all members of the community in efforts to rehabilitate and repair damaged infrastructure. For more information, and to download a free copy of the manual, please visit: www.bit.ly/1PL6j2Z