By Mary Joy Evalarosa
Within 48 hours of Category 4 typhoon, Nock-Ten striking the eastern seaboard of central Philippines, emergency teams from the Philippine Red Cross were on the ground assessing the damage. Catanduanes Province in the central Bicol region was where the typhoon first made landfall. Its residents are now counting the cost of the storm.
Local livelihoods have been hit hard. Philippines is the world’s largest producer of abaca fibre (popularly known as the Manila hemp) and Catanduanes is a key producer. According to Governor Joseph Cua, sixty percent of the population relies on abaca farming as their main source of livelihood.
“Based on our initial reports, damages to abaca amount to 191 million pesos alone. In total the typhoon caused around 211 million pesos damage to agricultural production here in Catanduanes.”
The landlocked municipality of San Miguel in Catanduanes, which produces the highest volume of abaca fibre, sustained the most damage.
“6,000 hectares of abaca plants in San Miguel have no chance of recovery, as the plants were already in the mature stage,” says Governor Cua. “It will take a maximum of three years for new abaca plants to fully mature and be harvested.”
One kilo of abaca fibre is usually sold for 50-60 Pesos. Its by-products are used to make handicraft items, but lately have been adapted to make tea bags, ropes, special paper products, and even sausage casings.
65-year-old abaca farmer William Tuzon has made a good living selling the abaca fibres. He owns a 3-hectare abaca farm on a small hillside in the municipality of Baras.
In order to get the most out of his ruined harvest, he now has to employ 3-4 people to help him harvest, strip, and dry his plants. He pays them 300 pesos each for their efforts.
“Once I sell them, I’ll have to use that money to buy new abaca plants, but I will have to wait for three years before I can make some profit out of it,” says William.
“We were thankful that the typhoon passed over quickly,” says Philippine Red Cross Catanduanes chapter administrator Raymund Reginaldo.
“The winds began at 6:30 pm and by 9:00 pm they had almost died down. If they had continued longer the damage to homes and infrastructure would have been far worse.”
Residents pre-emptively evacuated by the local government units in Catanduanes have already gone back to their homes and have started to go through their damp, soiled possessions to see what they could salvage.
52-year-old Nicanor Tesorero and 46-year-old Juri Pangkoga returned to their home a day after Christmas. Their home is located along the coast of Benticayan in the municipality of Baras, Their thatched house was gone and all they found were their clothes strewn across the street when the waves crashed over the low seawall during the height of the typhoon.
More than 30,000 people were pre-emptively evacuated in Catanduanes. 38-year-old Mary Jane Camot from the coastal town of San Vicente in Virac sought shelter in the nearest concrete house instead of going to the municipal hall and school.
“When we heard the news that the typhoon was coming, me and my three kids quickly went to my mother’s house next door,” says Mary Jane. “We knew we were safe in my mother’s house because it had stronger foundations. The house had been built by the Red Cross.”
Mary Jane’s thatch house was flattened after a huge mango tree fell on the roof during the peak of the storm.
65 year-old Aida Traquena, Mary Jane’s mother, remembers all too well the last strong typhoon she experienced. Category 4 typhoon Durian destroyed her home ten years ago. The strong winds ripped off the roof of their house and dragged the entire structure a few meters along the ground.
“It was the scariest experience I ever had, and I did not want to go through the same ordeal ever again,” says Aida. “I became a recipient of the Red Cross shelter repair programme after the typhoon. Words can’t express just how grateful and lucky I am because this home has helped shelter us from Typhoon Nock-Ten.” Durian was a category 4 typhoon that dumped heavy rains over the Bicol region in 2006.
In the province of Camarines Sur where Nock-Ten made its second landfall, trees, electrical posts, and six wheeler trucks that have yet to be cleared and toppled over by the typhoon along the national highway and causing heavy traffic.
Across the affected region the Philippine Red Cross estimates that some 600,000 people have been affected and at least 70,000 homes damaged or destroyed.
“Provision of shelter kits and food items are our main concern at the moment,” says Raymund Reginaldo.
On December 29th, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies launched a 1.6 million Swiss Franc emergency appeal (USD 1.56 million, Euro 1.5 million) to help the Philippine Red Cross assist more than 20,000 people with emergency relief assistance and longer term recovery support.
The IFRC appeal will enable the Philippine Red Cross to provide emergency relief and longer term recovery support to affected communities over the coming seven months with a focus on non-food relief, health and provision of clean water, livelihoods recovery and support to repair and rebuild houses. For updates on Twitter follow @IFRCAsiaPacific and @Philredcross