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Life after Rolly: Survivors in Catanduanes face challenges, uncertainty

Photos and text by George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 07 2020 11:19 PM | Updated as of Nov 08 2020 01:35 PM

In the early morning of November 1, Typhoon Rolly, classified a Super Typhoon at the time, made landfall in Bato town, Catanduanes. 

State weather bureau PAGASA said Rolly, the world’s strongest storm of the year so far, packed 225 kph maximum sustained winds near the center and gusts of up to 280 kph, bringing catastrophic winds and intense to torrential rainfall. 

As soon as it hit the town, trees were uprooted and electrical posts were downed while houses and structures made out of light materials were destroyed.

One of those affected by the onslaught of Rolly was Racel Kay Arsenio. The 34-year old kindergarten teacher’s home was destroyed during the height of the typhoon. 

Coming back after staying with a fellow teacher, she found her home, made mostly of bamboo, crushed by an electrical post. Aside from her home, Sibacungan Elementary School where she teaches was also destroyed.

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The Sibacungan Elementary School in Bato town, Catanduanes, was destroyed by Rolly on Friday. The school, which conducts a multigrade teaching system, currently has 60 enrolled students under 5 teachers. During the height of Rolly, the whole school was submerged in neck-high floodwater. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

Teacher Racel Kay Arsenio gathers school materials completely soaked inside her classroom. She, along with a co-teacher and other helpers, begin the task of cleaning up the mess that Rolly left.
“Binabagyo din po kami dito pero hindi ganun kalakas. Sobrang lakas yung bagyong Rolly. Halos lahat ng bahay ngayon na mga light materials, kahit sementado na po. Nasira talaga ng bagyo,” ani Arsenio. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

Yolanda Zulueta, 58, cleans up the schoolyard. The teacher offered her home as shelter to Arsenio’s family, a day before the typhoon hit. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

Helpers climb their way out of the school yard during a quick lunch break. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

Arsenio and her husband show the rubble that used to be their home after an electrical post crushed their house and small eatery.
“Wala na. Naubos na yung pinaghirapan mo. Nawalang saysay na yun. Ang nasa isip ko, tatanggapin na lang ito at natural na siguro to. Masakit sa loob.” George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

Arsenio shows what is left of what used to be their home.
“Syempre paano ka nanaman magsisimula. Yun ang unang tanong dun e. Paano yung bahay? Paano yung buhay? Paano nanaman magsisimula pagkatapos ng bagyo? Nawalan na nga ako ng bahay, pati yung classroom ko wala na din.” George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

“Sabi ko nga, yung bagyo ngayon para tayong bumalik sa sinaunang panahon. Walang kuryente, walang tubig. Kasi dati ang tubig namin refill. E ngayon wala, kukuha ka doon sa sapa.”
Arsenio and other evacuees now resort to collecting water from a faucet straight from the underground for drinking and bathing. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

Arsenio says that she and her family feel lucky to have teacher Yolanda Zulueta take them inside her house made of cement and more stable materials.
“Super lakas ang bagyo. Nakakabingi sya. Yung hangin nya talagang napaka-sakit sa tenga. Sementado na yung bahay nila ma’am, pero umaalog pa rin yung mismong pader. Ganun kalakas yung hangin.” George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

Zulueta lays out soaked reading materials on top of the family car inside their home in Sitio Balongbong, Barangay Sibacungan, Bato town, Catanduanes.
“Buti nga sumunod na sa akin na pumunta sa bahay. Parang anak ko na rin sya. Simula nung lumipat sya dyan sa school, turing ko sakanya parang anak na rin. Wala naman silang matutuluyan.” George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

Arsenio together with her husband, Zulueta, and other helpers prepare to go back to the school to resume cleaning after a quick lunch break. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

Zulueta gathers soaked school materials to lay it out in the school’s yard. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

Arsenio clears her classroom of debris from the destroyed ceiling of the Sibacungan Elementary School. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

A view of a destroyed classroom at the Sibacungan Elementary School. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

Zulueta and Arsenio clear the room of debris from the destroyed ceiling. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

Arsenio is left full of questions. Her home, her family’s small business, and the school where she works are destroyed. She said that a meager amount of P2,000 was all she saved before the typhoon, and is now down to less than p500. She says she and her family need to accept their fate, left with no choice but to get through this tragedy. “Wala naman tayong magagawa, babangon kahit mahirap.” George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

 

In the neighboring town of San Miguel, landslides incapacitated the movement of rescue teams and relief operations making it entirely inaccessible for the first few days.

The Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) inch its way into each area to clear roads of huge rocks and thick mud. Workers man highways and direct traffic flow while payloaders continuously scoop debris up and mud out of the way.

Elynard Bernal, 33, a resident of Barangay Boton in San Miguel, considers himself more fortunate than other men in his town.

He works under the DPWH as a contractual worker, a job he badly needs as he is one of the thousands of people in the region who lost their homes to Rolly. 

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A DPWH payloader clears the road of debris and landslide caused by Super Typhoon Rolly in Barangay Boton, San Miguel, Catanduanes on Friday. Despite losing homes and belongings from the typhoon, DPWH workers residing in the area continue to work along the highway to allow the passage of vehicles. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

A young boy stands beside a makeshift bathroom put up by his parents after losing their entire home in Barangay Boton, San Miguel Catanduanes. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

Elynard Bernal, 38, blows air into his son’s salbabida before going to work for the DPWH. Bernal is one of the locals who lost their homes after Super Typhoon Rolly devastated their town. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

Bernal is tasked to oversee the flow of traffic, while payload truck operators clear the road of debris and mud. He is also assigned to chop tree branches or get rid of any roadblock whenever heavy equipment cannot get it done. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

Bernal says he recently just finished repairing his home due to Typhoon Quinta and spent at least P5,000 for repairs. He borrowed money from a friend and planned to pay him back P500 a month until he pays off the debt. A week later, Rolly devastated their house, leaving nothing but debris. “Yung unang bagyo, nabaklas ng hangin yung mga dingding tsaka bubong.Pagtapos nung bagyo, inayos ko. Nabuo ko ulit. Ngayon bagyo nanaman. Tinira naman ni Rolly.” George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

Bernal’s wife, 35-year-old Janet Bernal, gathers clean clothes after drying them in the space where their house used to stand. During the onslaught of Rolly, Janet and other family members took shelter inside the house of Bernal’s cousin, a few houses away from theirs. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

Bernal’s uncle, 60-year-old Jose Cervantes, touches his facial injuries after being hit by violent winds caused by Rolly. He also took shelter inside his son’s home along with Bernal. “Magdamag yan tumulo ang dugo. Tapos yung pintuan ng anak ko, magdamag din kami doon nakatago, ang pang-takip nalang namin yung foam na higaan. Minsan nga naitutulak pa kami sa sobrang lakas ng hangin. Ngayon nung mabaklas ang bintana, pumasok na lahat sa amin ang hangin. Doon ako natumba,” Jose Cervantes. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

A view of the space where Bernal’s house used to stand. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

Janet and her family temporarily take shelter inside a small chapel along the same highway in Barangay Boton. “Last na tumawag sa akin ang kapatid ko, alas-dose ng tanghali nung 31. Sabi ko sa kanya, ‘Hindi ko na maintindihan ang sinasabi mo, nawawala na ang signal.’ Pagkatapos nun wala na. Wala na kaming komunikasyon. Wala pa naman kaming pang-punta sa Virac para maka-tawag. P200 ang tricycle.” George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

A view of the chapel where Bernal’s family temporarily takes shelter. “Sabi ko sa asawa ko, dito muna tayo. Dahil wala tayong matitirhan, kaysa makitira kami. Mahirap na ang buhay. Kahit pansamantala lang. Mahirap din kasi sobrang init kung minsan.” George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

As a contractual worker, Bernal makes P477 a day, just slightly above the minimum wage for non-agricultural workers in Region 5, according to the National Wages and Productivity Commission. Janet makes do with what they have and is thankful to Bernal’s boss at work for donating pieces of iron sheets for roof covering after Typhoon Quinta. After the wrath of Rolly, they are now left with nothing but a few belongings that they were able to evacuate.
“Nanghina ako, na para bang hindi ko matanggap. Naiyak nga ako e.” Bernal laughs, as he recalls the events on November 1. “Nandun kami sa pinsan ko. Wasak din yung bahay ng tatay nya e. Ang hirap kung paano kami lahat mag-uumpisa.” George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

Despite working for DPWH for over a year now, Bernal feels anxious more than ever about his work and financial stability. “Kasi pagdating ng January, panibagong taon na naman. Magtatanggalan na naman ng trabahador. Minsan nakakabalik din naman ako.” George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

On October 26, President Duterte ordered a task force to investigate the alleged corruption in the DPWH, but also stated that he had nothing against DPWH Secretary Mark Villar. “Problema ng mga mayayaman yun. Yung tuland naming mahihirap, ku-korap pa ba dyan? Kung mango-ngorap man kami, sa oras ng trabaho lang”” Bernal’s co-worker jokingly quipped followed by laughter. Under the piercing heat of the sun, these workers spend hours at work to ensure the safety of motorists and residents alike. For Bernal, this is the only chance of survival he has left.