MANILA – “The trees broke like matches.”
Ed Boysillo, 54, a municipal worker in Ubay, in the central Philippine province of Bohol, described the formidable power of Super Typhoon Rai. The storm first made landfall on December 16, bringing torrential rains and high winds up to 168 miles per hour, comparable to a Category 5 hurricane.
It blew up buildings, overflowed rivers and forced more than seven million people to flee their homes. He cut off electricity, water and communications. It damaged critical infrastructure.
As of Monday morning, the storm had left 389 dead, 1,146 injured and 65 missing, according to official figures. More than half a million people were still in evacuation centers or with friends and relatives.
The scent of death hung in the air in Bohol, where a family emerged from the wreckage in an attempt to retrieve a door adorned with Christmas decorations. An inflatable Santa Claus who had survived the high winds swayed sadly in the air, his affable face contrasting starkly with the destruction.
Antero Ramos, 68, from the village of Casare in Ubay, lost his wife, Tarsila Ramos, 61, and two of his daughters, Nita, 37, and Nenita, 28, in the storm.
“My wife decided that we had to evacuate, so we decided to take shelter in the bodega that we were using to store the rice,” he said. “But as soon as we entered the bodega collapsed on top of us,” he said.
The keeper of the bodega also perished.
“It’s a very sad Christmas,” said Mr Ramos. “We had to bury them immediately because the funeral home could not get to the bodega due to the debris that was still on the roads.”
Rai, the international name for the storm (the local name is Odette), was the 15th typhoon to hit the country this year. The storm left eight more affected in several areas before receding.
The Philippines sits on a typhoon belt and typically experiences around 20 storms per year. After the devastation in Rai, the country’s Climate Change Commission called for urgent action at the local level “to build community resilience against extreme weather events and minimize loss and damage.”
“As the level of global warming continues to increase”, it is said in a press release last week, “these extreme weather events and other climate impacts are becoming severe and may be irreversible, threatening to further slow our growth as a nation.”
In Bohol, where numerous deaths from the storm were recorded, overturned vehicles piled up on the side of the highway and in fields on Monday. Countless trees and debris littered the ground. Many deaths have occurred in coastal areas flooded by storm surges or where people have been crushed by houses that collapsed in the wind. Everywhere you could see people rummaging through the ruins of houses to recover what was left of their former life.
On a highway leading to Ubay, near a bay in Bohol, storm survivors scribbled “Help Us”, a desperate call for passing helicopters and planes.
Authorities warned that residents of remote areas were running out of food. Countries like USA, Canada, China and South Korea promised help. A United Nations agency has requested $ 107.2 million “to help the government meet the most urgent humanitarian needs over the next six months.”
Bohol Governor Arthur Yap has asked for donations to buy food and other relief items. A first call focused on generators, but fuel is now a coveted product.
“Many have bought generators, and that has tripled the demand for gasoline,” Yap told reporters on Friday. “This is the reason why we have long lines at gas stations.”
Ananisa Guinanas, 27, went to collect gasoline in Ubay on Friday with her 3-year-old daughter. Police officers guarded the site.
“We’ve been in line for seven hours,” she said. “I brought my daughter because I couldn’t leave her. Our house was destroyed. We desperately need gasoline for the motorbike that we would use to collect water.
After the storm, the Loboc River turned brown from mud and debris.
Nilo Rivera, 34, said his home and that of his mother-in-law were quickly swept away by the raging waters of the river once the storm hit.
“The water was reaching the second story of our homes,” he said, pointing to a water pipe next to a structure that remained standing after the muddy water disappeared.
They were now living in a makeshift tent.
Bohol is no stranger to calamities. A powerful earthquake destroyed one of its churches in October 2013 and severely damaged infrastructure. The death toll was low as the quake hit on a public holiday.
A month later, Super Typhoon Haiyan, the most powerful storm to make landfall in the country’s history, devastated vast swathes of the Philippines.
The result: 6,500 dead and missing.
Frédéric Soupart, the owner of the Fox and Firefly complex in Bohol, says he thinks Rai was worse than Haiyan. Rai left destruction everywhere when he came out through the Palawan Islands in the western Philippines. Parts of his compound were buried in waist-deep mud.
“I have never seen floods like this,” he said, estimating that the damage caused by the storm would cost millions of Philippine pesos to repair. His complex is located next to the Loboc River, and he and his staff had to shovel mud from the property.
“It doesn’t look like Christmas,” Soupart said. “I was buying things at the hardware store and Christmas carols annoyed me. “
Clean-up operations have been slow, although the Philippine military has deployed teams of engineers to help rebuild. Electricity and telecommunications had not yet been restored in Bohol and many other areas.
In Siargao, a surfing destination on the northeastern tip of the island of Mindanao, east of Bohol, no structure has been left standing or spared.
The government evacuated dozens of foreign tourists and Filipinos aboard a military plane. But some have chosen to stay to help rebuild.
Vice-President Leni Robredo, who was among the first national officials to reach the devastated sites, said in a Christmas message on Friday: “Hope is in unity.”
Many Filipinos sought solace in the church. Priests called for calm as the national government scrambled to bring aid to residents. Worshipers in Bohol used flashlights and candles to celebrate dawn mass.
Donn De Lima, 44, was one of dozens from Santo Niño parish in Ubay who attended mass on Christmas Eve. It was raining hard and the roof of the church was leaking.
“This Christmas is sad because my house has been badly damaged,” he said. After mass, her family planned to share a simple meal under a rechargeable flashlight.
Others weren’t so lucky.
Alicia Nemenzo, 48, and her daughter Mavel Nemenzo, 21, spent Christmas Eve taking refuge in a small roadside store after the storm destroyed their home. Their only source of light was a flickering candle.
“When it rains now, we are afraid,” she said. “I think we were all traumatized by this typhoon. “
Jason gutierrez reported from Manila and Ezra Acayan from the province of Bohol, Philippines.