Aid Worker Diary: Typhoon Bopha

People of Cateel start to clean up debris after Typhoon Bopha. Credit: Gary Ong
An aid worker witnesses devastation in the southern Philippines.

One day after Typhoon Bopha (known locally as Pablo) hit the Mindanao coastline, teams from the Government and humanitarian organizations spread out across the island to assess the situation and find out what help people needed.

I visited Cateel as a member of one of those teams. Typhoon Bopha made landfall just a few kilometres from Cateel, so this part of the coast took the full force of rain and winds that were up to 185 km perhour.

Cateel is normally a quiet coastal town of about 30,000 people. But when we arrived, we were greeted with a scene of total devastation.

All the buildings were destroyed: the church, the school, the health centres, the houses and the municipal buildings. Some houses were so badly damaged they looked like firewood. Concrete buildings lost their roofs and windows. So far, 42 people have been confirmed dead and 53 missing from Cateel. The police have arrived and are registering the injured, the missing and the dead. Some roads are blocked and bridges have been washed away.

Local people warned us about the damage to the town before we arrived. One woman who works for an international agency and has family members in Cateel forwarded an e-mail describing the area as a ghost town and saying this was the worst disaster that had ever hit the area. Her message was echoed on social media by others with friends and family in Cateel:  a Facebook post described the impact as “beyond words” and said there were no buildings left standing to use as shelters. On Twitter, people forwarded pictures of the destruction and asked for help.

Following the storm, most survivors left their shelters and returned to what was left of their houses.  They have started to clean up, but it is a huge job as there is a lot of debris from the damaged buildings. Some are starting to rebuild what they can.

There are urgent, basic needs: food, water, shelter and medicine. There is no power, so they also need generators and gasoline. And body bags.

The local government unit is the only support structure we could find. Along with my government colleagues, we shared our information with those in charge of responding to the disaster. Now we are continuing down the coast towards the next town, hoping that we do not find more of the same devastation that hit Cateel, but ready to gather all the information needed to help these survivors.

 

Reporting by Agnes Palacio, OCHA National Disaster Response Advisor

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