“Nowhere is safe”: typhoon victims in the Philippines live in fear

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Guinobatan (Philippines) (AFP)

As global warming results in increasingly extreme weather conditions, she now fears that “nowhere is safe”.

Hundreds of families from poor villages around Mayon volcano in Albay province, on the country’s most populous island, Luzon, are waiting for new homes after Typhoon Goni hit the region last November.

“It’s the strongest I’ve ever known,” Baldoza, 40, told AFP, standing on a mound of black sand that now covers the house she once shared with her husband and two daughters. teenage girls.

Several hundred thousand people fled as Goni made his way to the archipelago nation – ranked as one of the most vulnerable in the world to the impacts of climate change.

But some residents of the village of San Francisco – including Baldoza’s family – ignored warnings to take refuge in a school, believing that a river dike built several years ago would protect them from flooding.

As the strongest typhoon to hit the country last year dumped heavy rain on an area still soggy by another cyclone a week earlier, Baldoza realized his family was in danger when the water started. to sink on the cement wall several meters high.

The Philippines is ranked among the most vulnerable in the world to the impacts of climate change Ted ALJIBE AFP

They rushed towards her mother’s house across the road as a devastating mixture of water, volcanic sand and boulders broke the dike further upstream and tore the village apart.

“We were stuck inside the house,” Baldoza told AFP. “We were crying, my husband was estranged from us – we thought he was dead.”

Lucky to be alive, but trapped in deep mud, Baldoza and eight members of his family, including children, twisted their bodies from side to side to escape, then climbed through a window and are mounted on the roof.

Her husband, Alexander, survived by climbing a mango tree.

Clinging to a power line to avoid being blown away by high winds, the family climbed to the top of several houses before reaching a taller building.

“Our house was hit by rocks, but there was nothing we could do,” said Baldoza, who watched helplessly as the torrent swept away the motorized tricycle and the family motorbike.

“If we hadn’t left our house, we would have died.

– ‘Capital of disaster’ –

This is not the first time that excessive rains have forced Baldoza to move.

About 23 years ago, before Baldoza got married, his mother sold her house in a flood zone in the same village and moved the family to higher ground.

“We didn’t expect to experience the same,” Baldoza said.

“I don’t think there is a safe place anymore. Wherever we go, we are inundated.”

Baldoza visits her home site almost every day as she sells homemade meals and soft drinks to workers repairing the damaged sea wall.

“I want to cry because I raised my children here, this is where they were baptized, my husband and I got married here,” she said.

Baldoza’s family now live in a classroom at the Marcial O. Ranola Memorial School, which has been turned into an emergency evacuation center.

About 170,000 people have been exposed to mudslides from the slopes of Mayon, the country's most active volcano, said Eugene Escobar, head of the research division of the Bureau of Public Security and Emergency Management of 'Albay.
About 170,000 people have been exposed to mudslides from the slopes of Mayon, the country’s most active volcano, said Eugene Escobar, head of the research division of the Bureau of Public Security and Emergency Management of ‘Albay. Ted ALJIBE AFP

Face-to-face classes have been banned in the Philippines since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

Families in the province of Albay, nicknamed the “disaster capital of the country”, are used to spending a few days every time it rains in shelters.

About a quarter of the 20 or so storms and typhoons that hit the Philippines each year affect the impoverished region, wiping out crops, homes and infrastructure.

A year after the mudslide turned their lives upside down, around 100 families are still in school, sleeping in classrooms and cooking in makeshift kitchens.

Despite the difficulties, Baldoza tries to keep life as normal as possible for his family. Their pet dogs and cats roam the classroom which is divided by curtains into sleeping and living areas.

Her youngest daughter recently turned 18 and they all dressed up for a traditional coming-of-age party.

But Baldoza worries about the future of his children.

“The storms are getting stronger and stronger,” she said. “How will they survive if we leave?”

– ‘You can’t stop typhoons’ –

Many houses in San Francisco are still partially buried in the volcanic sand and rocks that flooded the village, raising the ground level and reducing the height of the coconut palms.

Residents dug trenches around the perimeter of their homes to gain entry. Some are still shoveling debris.

Albay climate change activist Bill Bontigao said Goni was a “wake-up call” and urgent action was needed to prepare the region for stronger cyclones.

“I fear that the next generations, my nephews and nieces, will not have a bright future,” Bontigao, 21, told AFP.

About 170,000 people have been exposed to the mudslides off the slopes of Mayon, the country’s most active volcano, said Eugene Escobar, head of the Albay Public Safety and Emergency Management Bureau’s research division. .

About a quarter of the 20 or so storms and typhoons that hit the Philippines each year affect the impoverished region, wiping out crops, homes and infrastructure
About a quarter of the 20 or so storms and typhoons that hit the Philippines each year affect the impoverished region, wiping out crops, homes and infrastructure Ted ALJIBE AFP

More mudslides were likely as climate change warmed the planet and increased “the frequency and intensity of typhoons and rains,” Escobar told AFP.

The “cheapest solution” was to relocate vulnerable residents to safer areas and provide them with social and economic support, he said.

“You cannot stop typhoons … we have to accept the fact that we are in a disaster prone area.”

But Baldoza fears that “nowhere is safe” in the municipality of Guinobatan, including the new village where his family received a 25 square meter house.

It’s about a half hour drive from San Francisco where her husband still works as an electrician, but they don’t have the money to rent or buy somewhere closer.

“Once we move in, I’ll have him blessed, so we’ll be lucky here,” said Baldoza, standing outside the front door of the little house, cheerfully painted in white, aqua, pink and blue.

“We hope it’s safer.”


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