First-time evacuee

“It’s not comfortable to stay in an evacuation center,” Estel, 27, says of her experience as a first-time evacuee.

Estel and her 11-month-old daughter, Yesha, along with their parents evacuated a day before Typhoon Ompong (Mangkhut) hit the province of Cagayan in the early morning of August 15. Their evacuation center, a gymnasium, was packed with more than 500 individuals from different coastal villages.

Estel and her 11-month-old daughter experienced life inside the evacuation center for the first time.

There were only two comfort rooms: one for women and the other for men. It usually ends up dirty and emits a foul smell. We’re also sleeping on a carton. Ventilation is not good, too,” she says. Her daughter currently suffers from skin rashes after staying inside the evacuation center.

Estel used to work in Manila and went home when she got pregnant. Her husband is in Manila, working on a blue-collar job that gives him Php300 a day. All her life, Estel had never tried being in an evacuation center.

“The wind was so strong around 1 in the morning. We were all afraid that the gym’s roof might be blown away. It was scary. Most of us never slept that night. We were merely listening and praying that the gym’s roof is strong enough to withstand the typhoon. It did,” she says.

Like Estel, most families who evacuated are living along the Chico River, the most extensive river of the Cordillera Region. It is also the so-called “River of Life” because it provides families with the needed water for their rice and corn crops. However, once it rains hard, the Chico River swells and causes flooding – endangering the families living along its bank.

While it was the first for Estel, it isn’t for Virginia, 59, a farmer. She says that she is used to evacuating because even when she was still young, her family would evacuate during calamities.

I get used to it,” she says while talking about the problems she usually encounters inside the evacuation center.

Virginia, who also lives along the banks of the Chico River, evacuated because she knows that the water might reach up to five feet if more rainwater would pour. “To be safe, I evacuated.”

Virginia, a farmer, worries about not having enough income after hectares of corns and rice were devastated by Typhoon Ompong. She says, she lost Php10,000 due to the typhoon.  

Virginia’s would-be corn harvest is also affected after Typhoon Ompong’s strong winds flattened more than hectares of farmlands. Virginia lost around Php10,000 that she expected to earn this month. Other families, she said, might have lost close to Php50,000.

Without a harvest, Virginia relies on farm jobs that would give her Php200 a day. “I have no other income but farming. I don’t know anything but to farm,” she says.

Typhoon Ompong affected more than 120,000 individuals. It left many of the provinces up north without electricity. Baggao, the town where the typhoon made a landfall, is without electricity and communications signal making it hard for families to connect with their relatives outside town.

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