Monday, October 02, 2006

storm boy

Friday 29 September

Yesterday, Typhoon Xangsane (Philippine name “Milenyo”) passed through Los Baños. The weather started getting violent around 7am and got steadily worse for a few hours. There was a lull at around 10am (what I guess was the eye passing over), then the wind swung around and it picked up again until early afternoon. Laguna Province, which includes Los Baños, was under storm signal 3 – winds of 100-185 km/hour. I have video footage from within my apartment, but am not yet willing to learn how to put it on this blog.

It was easily the most violent storm I’ve experienced. A lot of the water that got into D's and my apartment was simply forced through windows and doors by the wind. The gusts would blow the water up the slope of the roof of the neighboring building and it would spray off the top like fine seaspray -- and get through into the ceiling anywhere that the roof wasn't perfectly sealed. . Word is that it’s the worst since “super-typhoon” Angela, which killed almost 1000 people in 1995. The latest Philippine death toll I’ve seen for Xangsane is 21, but that’s expected to climb.

The devastation around town was impressive – trees and power lines down everywhere, buildings damaged. D and I were lucky – just some minor flooding in the apartment, most of which we were able to divert into a bathroom. We have no electricity for now (last I heard, Sunday was the earliest prediction for regaining it) but we do have running water; lots of places don’t.

At work, there are lots of people away and many stories of people with unlivable and/or ruined houses. Given that most people don’t have insurance, it’s all a bit of a mess. The mother of one of my workmates (who was already quite ill) died – not from injury, but I guess the stress of the storm was too much.

Hearing the stories and news – e.g., someone was killed on the expressway between here and Manila when a billboard fell on their car – makes you realise that there’s a fine line between a storm like this being an exciting adrenaline rush and devastation or death. That maybe sounds a little sensationalist, but it’s true. I watched the storm from the confines of a sturdy apartment building and the worst I had to do was mop up a bit of water. A LOT of people not far from me are wondering where the hell they’re going to sleep.

It looks like the world media is applying the old equation that ranks the value of lives on a sliding scale from white Americans at one end to black Africans at the other – as far as I know there’s been bugger all reporting of this outside Asia. Can you imagine the amount of press a Western city of comparable size to Manila – say New York or Paris – would get if a storm brought down ALL power and left thousands homeless?

One thing that struck me was how people at work whose homes had suffered substantial damage remained remarkably chipper. I heard of one woman whose family told their elderly matriarch that, as the rain lashed in through the disappearing roof, that she’d always wanted a waterbed and now she had one. When I told the graphic design guys to try to have a good weekend, GR looked at MP and said, “M will spend his weekend looking for his roof in the lake!” Everybody laughed, genuinely. I imagine humour would be important in a similar situation at home, but here it seems even more impressive (or necessary), given that the losses are so much bigger, in relative terms.

I just found out that G, who cleans my apartment, lost the roof off her house. Worse, some friends of hers lost their 2- and 3-year-old kids. Somehow or other they were left alone in a house, their parents stuck somewhere else. There were candles burning, a fire started, and the kids died.

Which all makes the job I’m supposed to complete today – a press release about some winners of some relatively minor awards – seem like a complete bloody waste of time. Lost your house? Tell someone who cares, bud. I gotta write a press release.

Monday 2 October

A brief update: things are returning to normal -- the streets around town have more-or-less been cleaned up. There are still quite a lot of nasty stories popping up. Apparently 19 people were killed in a landslide in a neighbouring town.

In D's and my apartment, there's no elec-trickery (latest best guess is maybe by Thursday) and water only from around 8pm - 8am. But, Belgian J&I, who are hooked up to work's backup generator, have been generous beyond the call of duty and hosted D, C (neighbour for the last year or so) and I for the last few days. We'd be fine at home -- there are obviously many people much more needy -- but things are much more comfortable at J&I's place.

Work is collecting donations to help the local community; the memo sent out this morning said:

The recent typhoon, Milenyo, has caused considerable destruction and has affected scores of families. In Los Baños, the typhoon left 20 people dead, 6 people missing and more than 2000 homes, either partially or totally damaged. In Bay, there are 6 people dead, 9 injured and more than 2000 families affected. The local social welfare office said affected families need bottled water, canned goods, noodles, candles, rice, infant formula, blankets, used clothing and medicines.

A report in the Manla Bulletin said that "the death toll from typhoon Milenyo remained at 76 with some 69 persons still missing," and that "some 230,875 families, composed of 1,163,692 persons, were affected by the typhoon, out of which 20,706 families or 104,995 people were evacuated to 198 centers after 13,072 houses were destroyed."

And, even better, there's another one on the way...

Some photos from last Thursday and Friday that give some idea below.

From my bedroom window:

From spare bedroom window:

A few from around the University of the Philippines campus here in Los Banos:

These students had collected a dislodged sign (clearly, typhoons plus signs = BIG fun) and were thrilled to see D and I had cameras -- they'd been waiting for someone to come along who could photograph them. Which reminds me, I'm supposed to email the photos to them...

Belgian I's experimental Banana plantation -- 1 of 250 trees survived.

The tennis court at work -- the winds pushed down the concrete wall that people can practice against, taking a section of the fence with it:

A couple of shots from a nearby golf course:

One of the caddies, Jeff, next to a tree that came down on what used to be the clubhouse (it's one of the least swish clubs in the Philippines -- the clubhouse was wood and corrugated iron, but it wasn't insubstantial):

The clubhouse:

A collapsed billboard on the Southern Luzon Expressway, between here and Manila -- a couple of dozen of looked as bad or worse:


Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's unbelievable. Thanks for the pics and update SW. You are right - the external coverage has been dismal. Glad you are ok. I can understand why the press release is such a struggle.


3:06 pm  
Blogger secret wombat said...

Thanks Bunkie...and I still haven't finished the damn press release...

4:25 pm  

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