Live from Isabela, Day 1
ILAGAN CITY, ISABELA (UPDATED)–Our crew cab raced through the deserted countryside. All around, electric posts hung like torn picket fences. Uprooted leafless trees choked the road. The sky grew darker by the minute.
It was no horror movie, but our adrenaline was amped up.
The wind beat at our ears. Our heads throbbed and our stomachs growled. We already ran on empty, yet we had to finish the stretch.
Our main equipment broke down on us, and our plan B was 30 kilometers away.
In front, reporter Jeff Canoy and his driver asked around for directions to an obscure barangay we could not even spell.
At the back, my MacBook converted Jeff’s voiceover package. I asked his cameraman to set my bags on the other end of our seat. My thumb kept switching on a cellphone that kept switching off.
The time, 5:30 p.m. Our likely arrival, 6:00 p.m., 30 minutes before TV Patrol. Time to send our 71 MB package, God knows how long.
Welcome to typhoon-ravaged Isabela, and another case of the so-called Murphy’s Law–“Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.”
On the field, it tends to be true. And if you take it from Jeff, it’s always happened to him in Isabela.
It was something that went wrong. A storm named Juan (a.k.a. Megi) tossed and toppled Northern Luzon. But it lashed its strongest fury here. The best preparation stood little chance against our first “super” typhoon in a while.
We saw peeks of Juan’s fury Monday after our day duty, and then learned we would drive there at midnight.
The terrain grew worse as we went further north to Isabela’s capital Ilagan: gas stations capsized, roofs ripped off, plantations shaved, schools and houses laid bare, windows dashed and sign boards struck down.
Jeff and I edited that footage inside our Urvan at the capitol. Our tech team unfurled the satellite dish we hauled here on a trailer.
But it could not fire. Some defect in the machine amplifying our satellite signal.
We could not call Manila at first. No signal. Jeff struggled to send and get back his script. We roamed the city center for a Smart SIM card, then bought one just as Globe’s signal went back.
Jeff and Darlene Gemino, our local reporter, were supposed to go live for TV Patrol. By 5 p.m., no progress with the fly away.
So the office had us dash to Barangay Rang-ayan, where Bernadette Sembrano would report live relief operations through our DNG.
DNG is Digital News Gathering, ABS-CBN’s most compact broadcast tool.
Val Cuenca works as its one-man team. While we have our big dishes, he operates two MacBooks and a BGAN transmitter the size of the laptops.
We reached them under darkness. People had gathered around the only lights that pierced the neighborhood. They did not mind the power lines that hung steps away from the ruined hut where Sir Val set up his lights and camera.
In 25 agonizing minutes, we finally uploaded Jeff’s two-minute VO to Manila just as Patrol began. Sir Val, Isabela’s back up, ended up beaming our two main reporters live to TV Patrol.
The live camera was connected to another Mac, which sent the image via BGAN. It wasn’t as good as a fly away image, but neither was it webcam quality.
Signals were tricky again, and studio could not call for our override. Instead, they cued our teammates via phone, who then signaled Jeff and Bernadette.
When it was over, Jeff and I asked: could we get some of the lugaw being given out?
Back at the capitol, our veteran engineer improvised the equipment and managed to get Darlene Gemino live too, on Patrol.
We drove through darkness on the way back. Another requirement for Bandila.
If our team had it bad, think how Cagayan Valley residents stood fast through those howling winds and how most then waded through a powerless, waterless nights.
It’s all about how you jump hurdles when things go wrong. Headaches, fatigue, and hunger and all.