The almost sleepy coastal town of Tiwi, Albay, where I now reside was hit by two storms of different intensities a week apart and it seems to us now that someone up there do not like us at all.
The eye of tropical storm “Quinta” hit us from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Oct. 25, with mild winds and light rain, simply ruffling trees and roof tops, hardly bending electric posts, and we thought, thank God somebody up there did not want to destroy us.
We were powerless for six days but the Albay Power Electric Company promised to reenergize our town starting Nov. 1, a little late but still an acceptable delay for paying homages to our dearly departed.
Instead of being reenergized, Super Typhoon “Rolly” hit our town from 4 a.m. to 7 a.m. with north easterly winds of over 280 km per hour, took a short one-hour break as the eye passes overhead, then reversed with what we felt was 310 km per hour of howling winds and whipping rains.
Only then did we realize that whoever was up there looking down on our town, tricked us into believing that we were cared for, with a mild storm — which actually turned out to be a tracer for a super hitter.
Quinta and Rolly reminded us of two storms 14 years ago, which came just a few weeks apart: “Millenium” and “Reming.” Millenium was the tracer and Reming was the hitter. Millenium carried bearable winds, but Reming hit Albay on the morning of Nov. 30, 2006, with winds of over 450 km per hour and caused unprecedented damages in human lives (a thousand at least) and properties.
Typhoon Rolly caused storm surges of over three meters high that hit the coastal villages of Sogod and Lourdes. According to the residents, the sea swelled to heights higher than the coconut trees, covered the houses on the shorelines, over the seaside of the national highway, flooded the road and reached out to the houses on the side of the Mount Malinao. The waves remained for several hours, and when it receded, it eroded the foundations of even the concrete foundation of the houses on the seaside and swept them down to the shorelines.
Along the shorelines of Barangay Baybay to Bolo, a similar swelling of the sea was experienced although of lower levels than that in Sogod. Nevertheless, the sea waves inundated the concrete seawalls, destroying some portions of it, flooding the residential areas of light and sturdy materials, and sweeping away their roofs and walls and even their appliances. A house or two were reported to have been swept away to the sea. No casualty has been reported so far.
There were landslides along the scenic winding Tiwi to Sangay, Camarines Sur Road particularly in the Barangays of Dapdap and Mayong.
The Albay Power Electric Company and the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines initially reported that almost 70 percent of the electric posts and power lines in Tiwi were destroyed. As of Nov. 5, there are some attempts to clear the roads of fallen posts and scattered wires. Many fallen tree branches had to be taken out. According to some optimistic estimates, the lines might be repaired in three weeks’ time. Similar heavy damages on the electric lines are reported in the towns of Malinao, Malilipot, Bacacay, Sto Domingo, and in the City of Tabaco.
All the telephone company servers in Tiwi were destroyed. Smart and Globe are only available when one travelling from Tiwi reaches Legazpi City’s the northern most villages of Rawis and Arimbay. Thus, one must travel to Legazpi City to be able to communicate outside of Albay.
The municipality of Tiwi was forced to evacuate to different evacuation centers 3,983 households equivalent to 14,805 individuals. The residential damages are staggering. Of the 15,290 families of Tiwi, in 13,415 households, 9,261 houses were partially damaged and 2,326 were totally destroyed. The most destruction of houses happened at Biyong and Bagumbayan at 169 and 166 totally destroyed, respectively. There were similarly severe damages in livestock, fisheries, farms and crops. In public infrastructures, schoolhouses suffered most in blown roofing, damaged walls, flooding, and broken windowpanes. The roof of the municipal library was blown away, resulting to significant damages of books and study materials. The roofing of the church of St. Laurence the Martyr was damaged. Many of the makeshift stalls in the public market and the vendors’ stalls along the highways were destroyed.
As usual, disasters like this always bring interesting stories about man’s sometimes amusing, sometimes somber humanity. The couple Mr and Mrs Tony Imperial and Emmelina Cleofe, whom I knew from college days, owned Cresol Pharmacy fronting the public market. At the first winds of Typhoon Rolly its roofing was blown away to God-knows-where, exposing the medicines to winds and rain. When I saw it a few hours after the typhoon has passed, the entire structure of the pharmacy was nowhere to be seen, only empty cabinets scattered on the pavement. Everyone was wondering what happened to Tony and his pharmacy.
Two days later, I saw Tony in a small store, not a fourth of his former store, in front of the main public store building which was made of reinforced concrete. He was sitting on a stall. I thought his pharmacy was looted, because of the clean-up appearance of the place. It turned out that he was inside the pharmacy, with a man helper, when the roof was blown away. Immediately, they gathered the scattered medicines in previously prepared boxes. It was heartening to note that the youngsters, teenagers who used to pass their time around the pharmacy, helped in gathering the medicine. “I did not lose any medicine,” said Tony. “I used to give those teenagers some money for food. They responded well by helping me with the medicines.”
In Barangay Baybay, a passerby saw people sitting on top of the breakwater, looking at the sea waves. When he asked what they were looking at, they said that they were hoping some of their appliances, pots and pans, vats, drums and even electric fans, swept away by the storm surge a day before, would be washed back ashore. Alas, they waited in vain.
In a depressed area where people built houses of bamboo and nipa grass and other light materials, a widowed senior citizen, a man of over 80 years spent his retirement pension building a cube house made entirely of reinforced concrete, with concrete walls and floors and concrete deck roof. The only opening were two windows and a main door. When the strong winds came, the houses nearby were mostly damaged, most of which fell to the ground. Thus, the concrete cube of the old man, stood prominently over a devastated landscape. People in the area are now joking that if something unfortunate happened to the old man during the storm, all that would be done is to seal the two windows and the door with concrete and presto! The man is in a mausoleum!
On our way back from Legazpi City last week we saw men and women on both sides of the darkened main road fronting Tiwi municipal cemetery. They came in cars, in motorcycles and some just walked to the spot where once stood the temporary stalls of the vegetable and fish vendors. I thought it was a late “Undas” pilgrimage to the dead. It turned out that people were drawn to the spot because someone was able to get Smart or Globe signal, as in earlier times. Unfortunately, the telco signal was too weak to be of any service, so they soon dispersed.
Since Oct. 25, when Typhoon Quinta hit the town, the COVID-19 pandemic is completely forgotten in Tiwi. The municipal checkpoints were completely blown away, including the disinfectant and water tanks that were hurled several meters away to the middle of rice fields. The gated entry and exit as well as the steel railings in the public market were toppled and people begin to enter and leave the market in many places. Social distancing and the wearing of face masks and face shields are observed only in some public places and in the two big shopping malls. I heard an elders’ loud wishful thought: “Sa kusog kan mga bagyong ito, siguro naman ilinayog nang gabos su coronavirus (I hope that the coronavirus were all blown away by such strong typhoons).”
Tropical storms Quinta and Rolly passed almost identical routes: Coming from the Pacific, travelling westward from the east, both hit Catanduanes first, then go slightly southwest, make second landfalls in Tiwi, Albay, pass by the Lagunoy Gulf, hit Mindoro and the Calamianan Group of islands before exiting the Philippine Area of Responsibility through the West Philippine Sea. It is the route taken by countless typhoons since time immemorial. It is the reason why Bicol earned the title: “Highway ng Bagyo (Typhoons’ Highway).” It was the reason why, in the 1950s, we used to tease people from Catanduanes that their main source of income was “typhoon aid,” which was highly derogatory and, of course, not true.
Tiwi is a religious pilgrimage town, and second only in importance to Naga City, the seat of Our Lady of Peñafrancia in the entire Bikol Region. Many old and deeply religious people will doubtless again claim that the reason the town survives countless typhoons is because of Nuestra Señora de Salvacion, the patron saint of the province of Albay. The image of NSDS, one of three images carved out of a calpi tree in 1776, is documented by its first parish priest, Father Lamberto Fulay, to have made eight miracles upon its installation in the 18th century. The image was consecrated by Pope St. John Paul II and its church in Barangay Joroan, Tiwi, was declared a Diocesan Shrine by Cardinal Sin during its bicentennial celebration in Aug. 25, 1976. This is probably the reason why many maidens of the town are named Salvacion. This is probably the wellspring of the people’s resiliency, and the reason why on the first hour after the strong winds of Typhoon Rolly subsided, I saw the municipal workers clearing the streets of debris, and two makeshift highway stalls that survived the winds are selling kangkong and some green leafy vegetables.
Abdon M. Balde Jr. is a Bicolano writer who has written 25 books, four of which won National Book Awards. He is a recipient of the 2003 Palanca Award for Literature, 2009 Southeast Asia Writers Award, the 2010 Ani ng Dangal Award, the 2018 Pambansang Alagad ni Balagtas Award. He specializes in Bikol culture and history. He can be reached at [email protected] and [email protected]