By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan
CASIGURAN, AURORA–The black sky gradually breaks into a swirl of orange and purple.
Pockets of smoke rise in the distance, from wood– debris or fallen branches –being burnt in piles throughout town.
All is awake–a new day for Aurora’s northern town of Casiguran, still reeling from the super typhoon it first welcomed to the Philippines early this week.
The days are now dry, the run-up to sundown again climbing to stinging hot–evidence of the upside-down turn of climate.
It’s a far cry from the hours of what the locals say was their worst and longest ordeal under a storm since they could remember.
They haven’t gone past the after-effects of it–eating breakfast in candlelight, settling for the radio during lunch instead of the usual noontime TV habit, and rushing home before darkness once again envelopes their power-less town.
But they’re thankful to have at least survived Lando.
At a two-storey house along Casiguran’s main street, Rosalinda Fernandez and her family eat a meal of fried eggs and pinakbet in separate chairs in the sala.
The stairs are lined with notebooks and textbooks opened to dry. The steps lead to a roofless floor.
Rosalinda, a former barangay captain here, insists they had gone through a storm that surpassed the record of Labuyo in 2013
“It was surely the worst,” she says. “Just a little rain but a whole lot of wind.”
Lando actually had enough of both to bend Casiguran’s electric posts and to overflow the nearby river onto the streets hours after landfall.
Rosalinda points to the run-down all-wood structure right beside them as exhibit B of Lando’s power. It’s also–or was also–their house, now a shell of its former two-floor self.
“Labuyo and Harurot (another super typhoon in 2003) couldn’t topple it. Only now. We managed to recover just a few pieces of steel roofing,” she says.
They also lost a business to the knee-deep floods. Eight dirtied cathode ray tube TV sets sit outside the wooden house beside discarded electric fans, hardly recoverable for an appliance-fixing shop.
Rosalinda’s mother hangs the laundry on the bare branches of a tree between the house that was lost and the house that remained.
“At least we’re alive,” the mother says. “That’s what matters.”
* * * * *
The alternating mix of rough-smooth, straight-jagged that is the road from Baler to Aurora will tax the patience of anyone willing to endure the journey.
The devil-may-care driver of a 4×4 pickup could finish it in 2-3 hours. Those in convoy with a truck nursing weak tires could ride up to 5 or 6 hours, more so at dark.
But in the aftermath of Lando, the whole road was no man’s land.
A bumpy ride through it now offers hints of why. Dirt paths in the mountain side were newly bulldozed of avalanched soil. Trees and branches finally chopped off some. Rocks, stones and gravel hauled from a river along the way.
The provincial government in Baler lost contact with Casiguran and its neighboring towns Dilasag and Dinalungan (collectively called the Dicadi) in the hours after landfall.
It took the military another day to penetrate Casiguran together with DZMM’s Dennis Datu, who had to return to Baler that same night just to send the first images of the then-flooded town.
Dipacong is the first barangay in sight once the mountainside roads give way to plains. It’s hardly settled–mostly shacks along the highway, a two-floor barangay hall, and a local Navy outpost the size area of a bungalow.
Being nearest to the coast, only skeletons remain of the wood-walled homes. Only the flying Philippine flag proudly remains standing in the shaved outpost. The roof-cropped barangay hall overlooks them all.
An unpainted brick house nearby came out intact, like most concrete buildings in town. The owner, Sandra, recalls her family’s anxiety as they prayed together the night of the landfall.
“We were all interceding here,” she says.
If the restraint in the number of lives lost is any indication, Sandra’s prayers may have been answered.
* * * * *
The highest point in Casiguran is a hill in the center of town. Atop a flight of more than 50 steps sits the blue chapel of the Nuestra Señora dela Ermita.
During Lando’s landfall no one understandably sought refuge in this grating-wrapped chapel. But after the sun rose, a number of residents immediately climbed there.
They found part of the ceiling collapsed, a metal gate wrenched away and the pews thrown to the sides, some to the steps leading down. The soldiers who accompanied the group up saw a water world below.
A caretaker has since managed to reorder the pews and clean up the mess. Only a bare wall and a naked ceiling behind the altar account for the storm.
Seen from above now, the town proper hardly shows evidence of what passed.
Few roofs seem to be missing. The haze from the burning refuse fails to blot out the imposing view of the mountains beside Casiguran. Life going on as before.
For a town perrenially in the way of storms, Casiguran has been learning its lessons. It managed to curb its physical losses this time (though 90 percent of houses still reporteddamage) and evacuate many of its residents. Its death toll: two people.
Two is still less than what could be, but it’s enough to make the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) notice.
At a briefing with President Aquino in Casiguran Municipal Hall on October 22 that could have passed for a Cabinet meeting in Malacañang, the NDRRMC chief commended the town as a “model” for responding to natural calamities.
It’s of little consolation though. Classes are still in limbo. The wet market is barely replenished. Government aid has not arrived to all residents, especially the indigenous peoples in the fringes who are only reachable by boat.
Legend says the town got its name from “casiguruhan”, meaning assurance or safety. In the Spanish occupation, ships found refuge during storms by hiding in the gulf enclosed by the down-turned U shape of the locale.
Today, residents attempt to live up to the origin of Casiguran’s name.
The ABS-CBN News teams found it in Amalia Ayad, the grandmother who opened her house to them and fondly insisted that they take their meals, wash their clothes, use the rest room and even sleep there.
Locals find it in Rosalinda Fernandez, working with other community leaders to speed up recovery efforts and bring back businesses.
Others find it in Sandra, who is also a teacher to indigenous Agtas.
She let relief workers with the group Operation Blessing spend the night at an apartment beside her house and cooked breakfast for them and other neighbors in need the following morning.
Not content with it, she finally rides a van with the workers to the evacuation center to help out in distributing much-needed relief.
It’s an assurance that brightens spirits up like the colors of the breaking dawn–that despite the strongest tempest storm to hit them yet, we haven’t seen the last of Casiguran.