Two typhoons. One tragedy.

October 7, 2011

By Cheryl Ravelo

Two years after the devastating typhoon Ketsana hit Manila on September 26, followed by Typhoon Parma a week later, I thought this year would just be to commemorate the tragedy of those twin typhoons whose magnitude of destruction was historic for this country. But, I never knew we would relive it again, and this time with much greater damage brought by Typhoons Nesat and Nalgae.

When I went out to cover Nesat, I said to myself it’s just another typhoon, got some pictures of school cancellations, knee-deep flooding and villagers pre-emptively evacuating with their families, belongings and pets.

But the situation seemed to be getting worse when Bobby started photographing the already flooded U.S. Embassy along Manila Bay, something that has never happened in recent history. Storm surges created waves as high as the coconut trees lining the seawall. An oil tanker ran aground, almost hitting hundreds of shanties along the coastline of south harbor.

In the midst of it all, I chased breaking news announced over the radio, that three children together with their grandmother were buried alive by a collapsed wall due to the strong winds of Nesat.

I arrived there in time as rescuers were trying to recover the unfortunately dead bodies of the victims. I climbed on one of the three fire trucks on the scene to get an unobstructed angle for my photos. By then, I was already soaked in rainwater and the cold wind chilled me as I waited for rescuers to look through the rubble. They first pulled the young girl out. As the relatives comforted each other, a boy stayed outside, weeping silently as he awaited the recovery of the other bodies.

But only later did I discover that this was just the beginning, as another typhoon, Nalgae, made landfall three days after Typhoon Nesat. Nalgae pounded Luzon again Saturday. The following day flooding was all over the news. This time the provinces of Bulacan, Pampanga, Tarlac and Nueva Ecija were badly hit.

I was assigned to Pampanga province. Floodwaters submerged houses, schools and other buildings. Villagers took to the rooftops of their two-story houses as their temporary shelters. Relief can hardly reach where they were so they either butchered their chickens or ducks, or rode makeshift boats made of banana tree trunks to get to higher ground for food and water.

Together with Reuters TV, we also covered Calumpit, Bulacan. As soon as we exited the freeway, we were met with residents lined up along the highways in their makeshift shelters, the only high ground left not flooded. We drove past them but only to the point where the vehicles could still maneuver. From then on, it was a combination of wading through knee-deep floods of strong currents and boating on more than five-foot deep water. As rescuers tried to reach them, residents took to living on the available means at hand.

Bobby went to Pampanga to cover more flooding and rescue operations for trapped residents, while John stayed around Manila to photograph evacuees and the houses in coastal areas washed ashore.

As flooding spread damage to rice fields and the death toll rose, we juggled to cover the places affected by Typhoons Nesat and Nalgae.

I went back to cover the development in Calumpit and Hagonoy in Bulacan. The floods persisted despite the heat from the sun, although slowly the waters subsided. Villagers tried to bounce back to their normal life. They continued to bury their dead despite the knee-deep floodwaters. While some dried their wet clothes from their rooftops, others braved the flood to get supplies to survive the torment of being isolated for days.

It will take weeks, some says months, before these millions of my countrymen get back to the life they had before Nesat and Nalgae changed its course. But they also know that this is not the end, as climate change continues to affect lives throughout the globe. They can only hope and pray that this won’t happen again soon, not until the wounds of destruction are rebuilt.

(More images from the aftermath of Typhoons Nesat and Nalgae.)

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