In typhoon-hit Philippines, gloom hangs over Christmas

The destruction caused by two typhoons means it will be a gloomy Christmas for many in the Philippines.
Aya Lowe, Channel NewsAsia 24 Dec 15;

MANILA: It was an unexpected finale to the Philippine typhoon season. A little more than a month after the government weather bureau PAGASA announced that Typhoon In-fa could well be the last typhoon of the year, two typhoons barrelled into the country one after the other, with Christmas just days away.

Typhoon Melor hit the Central Visayas on Dec 14, making five landfalls and leaving widespread damage to the country’s main agricultural area, just barely recovering from last month's Typhoon Koppu. Almost immediately after Typhoon Melor left, Typhoon Onyok ploughed in, hitting the vulnerable areas of Southern Mindanao.

According to government figures, around 2.5 million people were affected by Typhoon Melor and Onyok. While the sun may be shining across most of the Philippines, the situation is far from sunny for those who will have to spend Christmas trying to piece their lives back together.

Both typhoons left destruction in their wake. Large areas of central Philippines were plunged into darkness and cut off from communications by strong winds and heavy rains that toppled transmission lines and electric poles. Landslides and flooding also rendered several areas impassable. The typhoons also displaced hundreds of thousands of people, their homes washed away by the strong rains.

The cost of damage to infrastructure and property has amounted to US$5.28 million. Meanwhile, government departments and NGOs disbursed a total of almost US$1.70 million worth of relief assistance to affected areas.

With Christmas around the corner, those affected are trying to maintain some sense of normalcy even if it means celebrating in an evacuation centre. "Certainly the loss of property is bad,” said Richard Gordon, Chairman, Philippine Red Cross. “The stress people have who’ve lost their families have to endure is difficult.

“We have to move in and try to alleviate human suffering. We try to bring in clowns sometimes to cheer up the children, and have a little music and bit of special food.”

Typhoon season, which is typically during the months of June to October had been pushed back later and later with some of the worst typhoons hitting the country at the end of the year.

"Since 2011 we’ve had year-ender typhoons and majority of these are quite devastating,” said Vilma Cabrera- Assistant Secretary at the Department of Social Welfare And Development. “In 2011 we had typhoon Sendong, which affected Cagayan de Oro city, followed by typhoon Pablo that hit the Davao Oriental and Compostela Valley.”

She added: “Last year, we had typhoon Ruby and now it's multiple hazards occuring at the same time. Maybe it’s part of the new normal occurrence, by way of the number of families affected or by damage done. It’s really different from the typhoons in the 1990s or even the 80s."

If there is a silver lining, it is this: The government weather bureau says fair weather is expected to prevail in most parts of the country until Christmas Day. This will give many the chance to start the process of re-building their lives, and beginning the New Year with some hope.

- CNA/rw

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