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Bopha leaves a trail of desolation and death in Mindanao

Typhoon Bopha calamity a 'test of faith'

Bopha leaves a trail of desolation and death in Mindanao
A village containing at least 100 housed used to stand in this area. (Photo by Keith Bacongco)
Keith Bacongco, Compostela Valley

December 7, 2012

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Fallen trees and electric pylons greeted me as I entered Mawab in the Compostela Valley on Wednesday, the day after Typhoon Bopha ravaged most of the province, leaving hundreds of people dead and hundreds more missing.

Roofs were torn from houses, and the gymnasium, which was supposed to serve as an evacuation shelter for calamity victims, had crumpled like paper.

In the nearby town of Montevista, a few hardy souls milled around the deserted market, that was once the life and soul of the town.

The roofs of buildings that used to serve as storage for rice during harvest were blown away. Sacks of unmilled rice were soaked in flood water.

On the outskirts, hundreds of hectares of rice fields looked like one giant placid lake.

In the town of Compostela, banana plantations were leveled to the ground. Fruit that was ready for harvest littered the scene.

It was if a massive bomb had been dropped on the center of town. Not many structures were left standing.

A long line of people were holding empty containers hoping to fill them up with gasoline that was priced at $2 per liter, double the regular selling price.

But these are abnormal times.

As I approached the town of New Bataan, the worst hit by the typhoon according to reports, there was nothing to see except muddy ground and scattered debris. Even the sturdy coconut trees were no match for the ferocity of the wind.

The smell of death assaulted me as I entered the town. There were dead bodies all around. The stench of decaying corpses was overwhelming.

Ambulances and army trucks were all over, ferrying the dead to their “command center” in the town square.

I tried to avoid the area where they lined up the bodies. A crowd of people looking for family members and loved ones started to gather there. There was a lot of crying and shouting, and sometimes an eerie silence.

But more dead bodies, the elderly and children, were piled outside the gate of the town's gymnasium. It was difficult to recognize the faces because their whole bodies were caked in mud.

Those who were identified were marked.

A five-minute walk from the town center brought me to a field strewn with rocks and boulders about a kilometer wide. Mud and water from a nearby mountain was flowing in the middle of what was once the town’s Village 4. The village was now a river.

Eustaquio Alcano, 67, who has lived in the village for the last 50 years, said at least 100 houses used to stand where the mud was now flowing.

“Some said logging and mining caused this destruction. For me this is not so," he said. "This is an act of God. This is a test of our faith in Him.”

As of today, authorities said the death toll was nearing 500 people while 383 others were still missing. Of the fatalities, only 73 have so far been identified.

Typhoon Bopha affected 1,033,364 families or 5,141,356 people in 1,862 villages in 188 towns and 29 cities in 26 provinces. Some 10,320 houses were totally destroyed and 5,530 were damaged.

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