TUGUEGARAO CITY, CAGAYAN–When you set out to welcome a storm, it either shows up elsewhere or merely sneaks a peek.
That’s a running joke among our field teams. When the wrath of storms do tread (Milenyo, Ondoy, Pepeng, and so on), they’ve often met no welcoming committee.
Still, it has always been better to be there and prepared than scooped and sorry.
The instinct for anticipation, prized all too well in coverage, thus extends to the unpredictable arena of rains and tempests.
Riding two pickups and a truck, we drove north for eight hours to meet Mina, the first storm weeks after a succession of others pummeled southern Luzon.
It’s a welcome break from weeks of covering a dengue outbreak and Senate hearings galore.
We would work with our regional news teams in Isabela. On the road, I asked TV Patrol Cagayan Valley anchor Darlene Gemino how things were.
“Parang ‘ala naman bagyo (It seems like there’s no typhoon),” she texted. “No rains, normal lang situation dito.”
All the way to Ilagan City, the winds blew strongly here and gently there. No sight of rain at first, and then it drizzled as we neared.
Manila called when we arrived. “It doesn’t look like a signal number 2,” I told our news desk head.
“Really?” she said. “But PAGASA says it’s already signal number 3 there.”
Deploying teams to cover nature’s fury is entirely played by ear, unlike for events shaped by people.
While homes worry if classes will be cut and local governments mull over evacuation, TV news desks plan by assessing how big the typhoon is, where it will hit, and where it could hit the worst.
Our regional bureaus along the storm’s path are given a heads-up. If the stations or areas have no equipment to feed video real-time or go live, reinforcements are sent–a satellite broadcast team, a Manila reporter, or both.
Crews in Manila are also put on standby. The PAGASA office is mobbed by round-the-clock technicians ready to air the latest bulletin.
The forecasts said Mina would only brush through the forehead of Luzon after days of lingering at sea. What might wreak havoc here was the strength it gathered there.
We soon set up base at our accommodation near the capitol. Unlike at our other prospect, we found sheds for both our equipment and our live stand-up spot.
It rained on while we transmitted RNG’s initial shots of residents in Isabela and neighboring Cagayan bracing for the storm.
As we went live with Julius Camba on TV Patrol, we learned that the rare signal number 4 had been raised over northern Cagayan. The rest of the province and the nearby ones remained in signal number 3.
We had an idea what was next. Our desks advised us all to proceed north to Tuguegarao the next morning.
One more requirement to hurdle first. Harsher weather spiced up Harris Julio’s background as he reported for Bandila.
Hours before we left Ilagan, Julius and his team met Mina head-on. Felled trees, uprooted power posts, and smashed or flooded houses greeted them as they traveled the five to six hours to the tip of Cagayan.
The crew could only shoot safely from their car. The road trip still afforded them a view of the storm’s impact on the towns along the way. A risky way to cover, but proven to grant an extensive story.
They met families evacuated at a gymnasium in Gonzaga, and workers clearing out the highway blocked with timber.
It was worse in northernmost Sta. Ana. Travelers to Isabela were stranded there as the wind pounded on docked vessels at the pier.
Julius and his cameraman Jeffrey Agustin went out to shoot a spiel near one battered yacht. While shooting 4 takes, Jeff held on to the plastic bag that protected his camera from the shower.
Jeff stayed a while longer at the wharf to shoot the waves hitting the breakwater. He said he heard someone shouting from the water and made out a boat, but the rain had obscured the view.
Later we learned that a ferry boat and a banca had crashed into each other near the pier during the storm.
On the way back, Julius’s crew passed through Caroan, the coastal barangay where the evacuees they met earlier had fled from. Some locals still stayed, braving gales.
The team found a fisherman securing his boat, fearing the winds and waves might carry it away.
Meanwhile, our satellite crew had stationed at Tuguegarao and waited for Julius and their video. Meeting them farther might cut our chances of making it to TV Patrol Weekend.
While the weather there wasn’t as severe as up north, it kept raining. Along the road we saw trees and fields of corn plants bent down by the wind.
A wrong pass at a fork leading to the city brought us to a flooded overflow bridge traversing the Pinacanauan River. Julius’ team passed by it earlier as the river was threatening to overwhelm the route. Now it reached knee level of those who dared pass.
Our lensman Popoy Carpio walked closer to shoot. One of our drivers brought out a dashboard screen to cover the camera. I exchanged it for my umbrella.
We found tricycles loaded with branches of wood. Some locals collected them from the bridge where the river had landed them.
“Where will you sell the wood?” I asked one.
“We’ll just use them for fuel,” he said in Tagalog. “It would be a waste coming here if we don’t get them.”
Our team still could not set up once we arrived. The truck carrying our major equipment got stranded under the rain at the provincial capitol. The alternator had burned and needed a replacement.
Once the truck and the tapes arrived, it was all adrenaline rush setting up for live and editing Julius’ VO in time for the earliest Patrol of the week.
We were not as racked as during the hubbub of my first coverage in the Cagayan Valley. Then, we arrived to reach only the aftermath of the region’s strongest storm in a while.
Maybe Mina did reserve a welcome of her own to us who this time tried to meet her.
(Post-script, 15 September 2013: After a memorable reportage covering another typhoon, Labuyo, reporter Julius Camba was fatally hurt in an accident on September 8. He was going home from coverage when his car crashed with a dump truck. After a week on life support, Julius passed away.)