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New Year offers fresh start for Bopha victims

Typhoon survivors rebuild lives from the ruins

New Year offers fresh start for Bopha victims
A survivor works on his shattered house in Davao Oriental (Photo by Keith Bacongco)
Bong Fabe, Davao Oriental

January 4, 2013

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With “Four Strong Winds” playing on the radio as background, the cacophony of noise from the construction site heralded the beginning of a new life for the people of Ban-ao village, in Baganga, which was devastated by Typhoon Bopha last month.

More than 1,000 people were killed, around the same number went missing, and half a million were displaced after Bopha ravaged Davao Oriental and Compostela Valley provinces on Mindanao during the first week of December.

A lecturer from the Jesuit-run Xavier University in Cagayan de Oro, one of the hundreds of volunteers who help rebuild the community, flashed a big but sad smile as she sang along with Neil Young.

“Four strong winds that blow lonely, seven seas that run high; all these things that don’t change, come what may. But our good times are all gone, and I’m bound for moving on," she sang.

The lyrics are strikingly apt.

“People here know that it was really the typhoon's strong winds that destroyed their homes and killed their loved ones,” she said as she prepared her material for psycho-social activities for the children.

Ban-ao is slowly getting back on its feet after the typhoon almost totally erased it from the map.

“We lost everything - our houses, our livelihoods and our friends. Some even lost family. Nothing is left here,” said village leader Mera Adlawan Ching.

One resident said she will never fully recover from the loss of her two small children.

“We took cover under a bridge. I was holding my infant son tightly while my two small children were holding my skirt. A few seconds later, I could not see my other two children as the strong winds literally carried them away,” she said.

A 10-year-old girl said she saw the strong winds sweep her grandmother a few feet up in the air and smash her down on the road.

Laurencio Batang, 59, said villagers caught out in the open had to hug the earth to counter the pull of the wind.

“We had no recourse but to cling to the earth, just grasp the grass, so that we would not be carried off by the strong winds,” he said.

Residents said no other typhoon in living memory had left so much destruction.

Baganga town and other municipalities in Davao Oriental were flattened by Bopha’s strong winds, but Ban-ao was hardest hit with 17 people dead and more than 90 percent of its 520 families left homeless.

Left with nothing — no food, no water, no shelter — villagers were helped by village leader Ignacio Cabrera, who gave the residents one hour to “loot” his store for food and whatever else they could get.

The residents have organized themselves and salvaged materials from the ruins to rebuild their homes.

Non-government groups, including the UK-based Disaster Aid International, have also started arriving.

Social development NGO the Balay Mindanaw Group has adopted the village and poured in resources in an effort to bring the community back to life.

“We are bringing not just tents and water here but the complete package. Our aim is to help rebuild resilient communities through village-based and village-focused disaster response work,” said Charlito Manlupig, head of Balay Mindanao.

Manlupig said the first key thing was helping survivors set up a tent community as emergency shelter while they reconstruct or repair their damaged houses.

Like the song says, the people in this village are really “moving on” as 2013 starts.

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