Sara

“When a calamity like Yolanda strikes,” Melvin Lyndon B. Garzon says, “you’re kind of numb: that you were powerless. You’re like a robot. At first, you don’t even care that you’ve survived.”

Sara MDRRMC staff Melvin Lyndon B. Garzon
Sara MDRRMC staff Melvin Lyndon B. Garzon

So begin the powerful memories – of rampant destruction, survival and ongoing recovery – shared among the residents of Sara, Iloilo.

In the forty-eight hours prior to the super typhoon’s expected landfall, a forced evacuation was undertaken, nearby residents were evacuated to the municipal hall. “We tried to prepare, but nothing could be done,” Melvin says. “Nobody could have fully prepared for that kind of typhoon.”

Evacuees could only watch as the gale-force winds tore the roof from above them. “All you could hear was the howling noise of the winds. It’s was so loud and strong. Sheets of roofing flew around above us: the galvanized sheets crumpled even before they hit the ground,” Melvin explained.

Outside the building, enormous coconut trees were found thirty meters from where they had once stood, surviving multiple typhoons, for decades.

“Even Hollywood cannot create these kinds of ‘special effects’,” he says.

Next, the aftermath

As conditions subsided, Melvin and a team made up of chainsaw operators and drivers, along with the several members of the Vice-Mayor’s own bodyguards, set out to clear the town’s main roads.

As the extent of the destruction became clear to them, “I saw the people around me crying,” Melvin remembers. “Even the bodyguards! These are the kind of guys who eat bullets for breakfast. But even they were crying,” he said.

These memories again bring tears to his eyes. “We were all wondering – could we even survive this? What had happened, and would happen, to our families? It was really bad,” he explained.

The backbone of the LGU

James Daniel C. Godinez, a municipal employee, shared that the RAY DILG fund was distributed swiftly once documents were submitted and formalized.

Sara municipal employee James Daniel C. Godinez.
Sara municipal employee James Daniel C. Godinez

As James explains, these contributions were especially useful in returning basic services to the people. “We had international NGOs present here, and they were very helpful,” he says. “However, these organizations tend to focus more on residential housing, shelter and training, rather than on government infrastructure. These kinds of buildings really are the backbone of the functioning of the LGU.”

“With these rehabilitation projects, at least there are some things that we feel thankful for,” adds Mary Joy B. Abellar, a municipal accountant.

Sara Municipal Accountant Mary Joy B. Abellar
Sara Municipal Accountant Mary Joy B. Abellar

Hopes for a post-Yolanda future

Each of these officials were then asked what their hopes are for the people of Sara, in this time since the destruction wrought by Yolanda.

“I hope that our projects would benefit the people of Sara, since – as government officials – the people are our topmost priority,” James says.

“If we survived Yolanda, we can survive hell,” Melvin added. “That was a hell of an experience for everybody. For sure, we will be more resilient. There’s no doubt about it.”

Mary Joy agrees. “I really hope that as we move forward more projects will continue to enrich the lives of the townsfolk.”

 

San Rafael

While the townsfolk of San Rafael, Iloilo, were advised to expect Super Typhoon Yolanda, for many, it proved an experience far beyond expectations.

“Ninety percent of the houses here were damaged,” says Marcelino D. Pontaoy, a municipal OIC (Officer-In-Charge). “Including our gym, municipal hall and public market. Many of the trees toppled down. So many people were without shelter.”

San Rafael Municipal OIC (Officer-In-Charge) Marcelino D. Pontaoy
San Rafael Municipal OIC (Officer-In-Charge) Marcelino D. Pontaoy

There were no casualties. “We’re fortunate that Yolanda struck during the day,” Inocencio C. Mana-ay believes. “Had it happened during the night, there have been casualties and even greater damage.”

San Rafael municipal employee Inocencio C. Mana-ay
San Rafael municipal employee Inocencio C. Mana-ay

Learning from Yolanda: No more bahala na

For the people of San Rafael, Super Typhoon Yolanda provided an critical shift in perspective.

“In some ways, we might be thankful for Yolanda,” Inocencio says. “A lot changed. Perhaps Yolanda is a blessing in disguise.” Since then, government facilities were not only repaired but strengthened, in case of future calamities.

For local government officials, proactive disaster preparation is now considered a high priority.

“My hope is that in future, people will be responsible for themselves, once they learn of impending calamities,” Marcelino says. “They should not wait for reminders from local officials to evacuate, but instead take the initiative. No more of the old thinking, the Bahala na (‘come what may’) syndrome. Preparedness is very important, and should be instinctive to each and every one of us.”

“It’s why we are thankful to the RAY DILG for this funding assistance, because it was immediate and addressed our needs,” Inocencio added.

 

San Dionisio

Located along the northeastern coastline of Iloilo, the municipality of San Dionisio was among those worst affected by Super Typhoon Yolanda.

Everything was washed out,” Carlos Paul Lopez, a local municipal official explains. “Even the ant houses!

Local municipal official Carlos Paul Lopez
Local municipal official Carlos Paul Lopez

While locals were advised to evacuate prior to the typhoon’s arrival, forced evacuation measures proved a challenge in a municipality that is used to the impacts of ‘regular’ typhoons. “Many just assumed it would be a normal storm,” Carlos says.

Yet it would then become clear that this would be no ‘regular’ calamity. “When Yolanda hit our town, that’s when the people panicked,” Carlos says.

Soon they learned that a storm surge had smashed into local coastal areas. The municipal plaza quickly filled with water: nearby, the municipal hall, proved no match for Yolanda’s power, suffering extensive damage, as its roof, trusses, ceilings, walls and office equipment were destroyed. In those few fateful hours, Yolanda had turned much of what was once the municipality’s critical infrastructure into scattered debris.

“Our roads were blocked by big trees. The ones who cut it manually even while the strong winds blew had to risk their lives just for the people to pass by,” Carlos shared.

“Yolanda was the first time for me to witness those things. I had only seen these kind of things on television.”

It took almost a year to recover, Carlos explained.

“Our main sources of living are fishing and agriculture, and these were badly affected,” he says. “The people had to start again from scratch,” he says.

The slow road to recovery

“The trauma is still there. It is not easy to forget our experience with Yolanda,” Municipal Councilor Vincent C. Bano shares.

Municipal Councilor Vincent C. Bano
Municipal Councilor Vincent C. Bano

During Typhoons Ruby and Seniang, the municipality and the people were much more prepared.

“San Dionisio is a 4th class municipality. We only depend on fishing and agricultural farming. We are still struggling, because of climate change. Only half of our regular crops were planted in our forest after Yolanda,” Vincent added.

Yet, as Vincent explains, the people of San Dionisio have benefited significantly from RAY DILG funding assistance.

“The LGU alone couldn’t afford the repair of our government infrastructures, especially the municipal hall,” he says. “But now we are almost 90% recovered. We are thankful to all the assistance extended to us, especially the livelihood projects from the INGOs.”

A panoramic view from the San Dionisio Municipal Hall
A panoramic view from the San Dionisio Municipal Hall

For the people of San Dionisio, Carlos hopes that they “will have a better future, more jobs, new livelihood programs from the government and NGOs,” to bring about a full and complete recovery.

Janiuay

Long before the arrival of super typhoon Yolanda, in Janiuay, Iloilo, disaster risk prevention measures had long since served as a top priority.

“Since 2010, our LGU have been practicing and enforcing preventive measures, including evacuations, long before the arrival of Yolanda,” Ricardo S. Minurtio shared.

To ensure that these preventative measures are effective during ‘real time’ disasters, these community-based activities include a range of sectors within the municipality: schools, government officials, local groups, and the like.

MDRRMC staff with Janiuay Mayor Frankie H. Locsin
MDRRMC staff with Janiuay Mayor Frankie H. Locsin

“You have to make the people aware, and you have to train them,” Mayor Frankie H. Locsin believes. “That’s how we work here: we work in teams. We send out teams to different locations to provide us with a clear picture of the damage, and the relevant needs.”

“Those of us in the office, for example, have received designated areas and roles to assess the extent of the damage, so that the day after the typhoon we can see what’s happening across the municipality. This is how we ensure both a fast response and recovery,” Ramon Sucayan, DILG field officer, added.

A State of Calamity

While Yolanda was not experienced as forcefully in Janiuay as compared to other Iloilo municipalities, “we were the first to declare the State of Calamity,” Mayor Frankie explains.

“It opened a lot of opportunities,” he explains. “We could open stores, and gas stations: anything that the people needed.”

In the days leading up to November 8, a number of local schools and gymnasiums were assigned to serve as evacuation centers. “We’ve been building evacuation centers (in preparation for calamities), long before Yolanda,” Mayor Frankie explains. “And while they weren’t built necessarily to withstand category 5 storms, they did serve the people well.”

During the Yolanda disaster, the municipal hall sustained significant damage: whole sections of the roof were blown away, a victim of the strong winds.

Janiuay Municipal Hall - July 2015
Janiuay Municipal Hall – July 2015

With support from RAY DILG funds, municipal officials then installed a new roof, complete with steel trusses, for added resiliency. Later, the LGU would fund additional repairs to ensure a comprehensive refurbishment of the entire municipal building.

Estancia

“It was really sad after Yolanda,” sighs Adrian Tiples, a citizen of Estancia and frequent visitor to the local civic center. “You could see and feel sadness everywhere, because the houses, livelihood and everything in Estancia were damaged.”

Estancia local resident Adrian Tiples
Estancia local resident Adrian Tiples

This sadness, felt across much of this affected community, was also experienced by Juvy Y. Espiga, a rice vendor in the Estancia public market. She didn’t expect that Yolanda would bring about significant damage to their market place. Certainly, she had not expected the widespread devastation across the municipality.

Estancia market vendor Juvy Y. Espiga
Estancia market vendor Juvy Y. Espiga

“Yolanda damaged almost the entire roof of our market,” Juvy explained. “Eighty sacks of rice got wet. There was mud everywhere. It was really a total mess,” she remembered. “Then aside from the damage, some people ransacked the market and stole food items.”



Back to normal

Yet for Juvy and others, the rehabilitation of the public market was a “blessing” in helping return a regular routine to market life. “We are now comfortable in their stalls, most especially during rainy days,” she says. “We don’t need to worry about our products anymore.”

Estancia public market
The newly-rehabilitated Estancia Public Market

Nearby, and while Yolanda may have removed the roof of the civic center, its repair has since seen the return of social and cultural events.

“Our civic center is very important to us because everyone gathers here,” Adrian explains. “Playing basketball here almost everyday is part of our lifestyle. We also use this area for our barangay  programs and dance events during fiesta, so it’s always very busy.”

Basketball games in the newly-rehabilitated Estancia Civic Center
Basketball games in the newly-rehabilitated Estancia Civic Center

“When we see the repaired facilities and new infrastructure in our town, it really helps us move on and forget about the horrors of Yolanda,” Adrian adds. “This gives us hope that soon, everything will be back to normal.”


 

Dumangas

Before Super Typhoon Yolanda devastated the municipal hall in Dumangas, Iloilo, water leaks has been a recurring problem on rainy days.

Dumangas Municipal Hall
The newly-rehabilitated Dumangas Municipal Hall – July 2015

“For the longest time, it is really our problem there. Our guests would usually see the leaks or the pails catching the leaks or much worse employees mopping the floor,” explains municipal employee Angela D. Docdolu. “It is really embarrassing, especially when there’s a meeting.” The employees often joked that it was like sa ilalom ng saging  (under the banana tree): though covered from the rain, you’ll still get a little wet.

Municipal employee Angela D. Docdolu
Municipal employee Angela D. Docdolu

Yolanda also blew most of the roofing off the local public market, affecting the day-to-day lives of vendors and patrons alike.

Dumangas Public Market - Aerial photo
The newly-rehabilitated Dumangas Public Market

Nearby, neither was the civic center spared by Yolanda. The gym, strategically located in the elementary school, is often where local community activities are held – graduation and recognition programs, school activities and event practice for the fiesta activities.

“I was heartbroken when I see the devastation to our gym because it has been part of our life here in the school,” Sharon D. Lumogdan, an elementary SPED teacher explained. “After Yolanda, it was very hard because we didn’t have a facility to hold our activities. We had to rely on our school grounds and could only hope that the weather would cooperate.”

Local elementary SPED teacher Sharon D. Lumogdan
Local elementary SPED teacher Sharon D. Lumogdan

Weather-resilient

Through the RAY DILG fund, repair to the roof and ceilings have since been undertaken at the municipal hall. “Now there’s no more leaks, no more buckets, no more mops,” Angela says.

At the local market, vendor Aster S. Belita says everything is now back to normal.

Local market vendor Aster S. Belita
Local market vendor Aster S. Belita

“Since there’s a port in our town wherein the passengers from the roll on, roll off (roro) vehicles are dropped off, passengers usually go here also to trade and buy our products,” she says. “On Sundays, we also have a market day where transient vendors visit, from nearly towns. Having an organized and improved market is every helpful for us vendors and marketgoers.”

Similarly, repairs to the civic center were a blessing to the local school, and the community.

Dumangas Civic Center
The newly-rehabilitated Dumangas Civic Center

“It was really nice to see the students gather once again here in the gym after it was repaired. Seeing them happy once again makes you forget about the struggles and hardship we had to experience right after Yolanda,” Sharon adds.

Carles

“Yolanda was the worst disaster in the history of our community,” Ma. Theresa S. Carsola, a teacher at the local elementary school, remembers.

Local elementary school teacher Ma. Theresa S. Carsola
Local elementary school teacher Ma. Theresa S. Carsola

As Typhoon Yolanda approached the town of Carles; the local civic center, most often used to accommodate large events, was used as a temporary evacuation center.

Yet the structure struggled to withstand the sheer force of the typhoon. “Yolanda left only left some sections of the roof intact,” Ma. Theresa explains. “(We had) thought that the gym would withstand typhoons, so many people were there during the disaster.”

“Then afterwards, the roofing was not immediately repaired so it was left exposed.”

Serving as the center of community activities, the destruction wrought upon the civic center significantly affected the local district. Local schools could no longer hold large assemblies: nor could large-scale sporting or community activities be held in a safe and secure environment.

Local school students pose for a photo in the newly-rehabilitated Carles Civic Center - July, 2015.
Local school students pose for a photo in the newly-rehabilitated Carles Civic Center – July, 2015

Repair and rehabilitation

With RAY DILG funds assisting in repairs, public school supervisor Lynie B. Chavez explains how local students benefit from the newly rehabilitated civic center.

Carles public school supervisor Lynie B. Chavez
Carles public school supervisor Lynie B. Chavez

“When we hold activities in the playground, we need to set up everything,” she says. “Now that the civic center is repaired, we now only need to provide a sound system.”

Ma. Theresa agrees. “The newly repaired gym is more pleasing, sturdier and more durable. Now there is also an enclosure, so the impact is really significant.”

The newly-rehabilitated Carles Civic Center - July 2015.
The newly-rehabilitated Carles Civic Center- July 2015

“And that is just from the perspective of the Department of Education,” she added. “This is also valuable for other activities held in our community.”

Bingawan

Mayor Matt of Bingawan remembers shared that immediately after seeing the widespread devastation, he initially felt depressed and frustrated. On the long road to recovery, where would they begin?

Bingawan Mayor Matt P. Palabrica
Bingawan Mayor Matt P. Palabrica

Before Super Typhoon struck Bingawan in 2013, they also experienced a strong typhoon – Typhoon Quinta – in 2012. “Maybe it is really a result of climate change. It was two years consecutive for us, Quinta and Yolanda,” Mayor Matt P. Palabrica suggested.

Yet few could have prepared entirely for the destruction wrought by the super typhoon.

The municipal hall – built in 1976 – was damaged, with the winds breaking windows and stripping off sections of the roof.

Bingawan Civic Center

Neither was the civic center spared by Super Typhoon Yolanda, with only the central part of the main structure surviving the gale-force winds.

For high school students Lorly Mei Pedroso and Sean Jahlel Ceralvo, who use the facility for the volleyball practice and competitions, it was an especially saddening turn of events. As the civic center is only sports venue in town, they had no choice but to keep using it for practice: taking extra precautions to avoid injuring themselves or others.

Local high school students Lorly Mei Pedroso and Sean Jahlel Ceralvo
Local high school students Sean Jahlel Ceralvo and Lorly Mei Pedroso 

The RAY DILG fund then provided for the repair of the civic center. “It was a great help because we can already use the center even on rainy days,” Sean says. “We don’t need to cancel our practice, and can even extend our sessions well into the evening. A screen was also installed on both sides, while before we had to chase the ball in from outside the gym,” he explained.

Both structures are more resilient, and are more likely to withstand future calamities. The civic center, for example, once below plaza level, had been prone to floods during rainy season. RAY funds were then used to raise the concrete flooring for better flood prevention. The roof trusses, made with stronger and more resilient materials, are estimated to withstand winds of up to 400 k/ph.

RAY funds: unexpected, but welcome

Meanwhile, Mayor Matt shared that in his view, the RAY funds were a welcome, if somewhat unexpected addition to those local funds directed towards post-Yolanda recovery.

The newly-rehabilitated Bingawan Municipal Hall - July 2015
The newly-rehabilitated Bingawan Municipal Hall – July 2015

It was a miracle for the municipality – we did not expect it,” the Mayor remembers.

“We did not expect the funding assistance because our municipality is considered as the poorest LGU in the province. In terms of votes, ours doesn’t have a big impact. It’s why we did not expect for any assistance from the national government.”

“But the current administration proved us wrong,” he says. “They helped us and took care of us. In fact in Region VI, we got a big amount for RAY (Batch) 1 projects alone.”

“We had previously applied for a loan because we want to improve the building. But once the RAY assistance was provided to us, we could repair what was damaged, then allocate additional modifications from LGU funds.”

Ajuy

On November 5, 2013, in the town of Ajuy, Iloilo, Mayor Juan Alvarez had joined local police officers in their rounds.

“We advised our people to prepare as best they could for Yolanda,” Mayor Juan says. Many locals had already evacuated to assigned centers. Relief packs had been received at different schools, and families had already received food packs.

Mayor Juan Rojas Alvarez - Ajuy Edited
Ajuy Mayor Juan Alvarez

On the morning on November 8, he explains:

“… Yolanda struck. I was in my office. First, I was confident that the building would be resilient: but since the windows were shaking so hard, and trying to break, I hid myself here, away from the windows. All I could hear were loud bangs as the window glass were destroyed.

The typhoon lasted from 10:30 until 13:30 in the afternoon. We couldn’t go outside: it was too dangerous. At one point, the wind changed direction. By 13:30 we had no communications, and no electricity. People started to come to our health centers, badly needing medical support. Some of them had serious injuries, but there was nothing we could do: as all the transmission lines, all the posts and trees were down, and covering the roads. We had an ambulance, but we could not bring them to the hospital. We had eight casualties.

Ajuy Civic Center - Ongoing
The ongoing rehabilitation of the Ajuy Civic Center – July, 2015

We had no means of communication: no signal, everything was down. I was here until around 20:00. I had to go to my home, because my daughter was there, and I had no idea what had happened to her. I had to ride a motorcycle, and ride under the trees, and it was still raining. When I arrived at my house, ten families were already there: our neighbors. We had to cook dinner for them and for the children.

Our focus was on our three island barangays: Ajuy is composed of 34 barangays, and 19 of these are coastal. These coastal barangays were badly hit because of the storm surge.

Many people had tied their motorboats to their houses. After Yolanda struck,  the houses and motorboats were all gone, swept away by the storm surge.

It took around three months for electricity to be restored. On the national highway, it was almost two days before vehicles could pass, but it was only partially open. It took us almost a month to clear our barangay roads, because of the debris, the trees, and the electricity poles were down.

Tommy Celis - Brgy Captain - Ajuy - Edited
Ajuy Barangay Captain Tommy G. Celis

We are very lucky because in our municipality, we have more than eighty groups that helped us after Yolanda. Government, individuals, schools, INGOs, foundations, they were here to help us in the different barangays.

After Yolanda, our people now are more alert, and more concerned. Every time theres an announcement of a storm, they prepare: they go to our schools that serve as our evacuation centers. We can say, we are now over-prepared: actually, our preparations are over-kill now, due to the trauma that people have experienced.

The road to recovery

Among the national government agencies that helped Ajuy, the largest amounts came from RAY DILG.

This funding was used to repair the roof and ceiling of the public market, civic center and municipal building. Glass used as walls, doors and office partitions were also installed in the municipal building.

This is my last term as a mayor. I am hoping that all of these projects would be finished so that life will be different here in Ajuy,” says Mayor Alvarez.