Abra residents try to pick up the pieces after M7.0 quake

Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jul 31 2022 10:11 AM

She looked like a woman on autopilot, with an old t-shirt doubled as a face mask, amid the circumstances.

Imelda Taa had been shuffling to and fro, attending to her mother who was staying in a tent amid her injured hand, and clearing the rubble in her home. 

The sun was scorching and she was hoping the bed sheet draped over wires would keep her mother cool. They had been sleeping out in the open at night, for fear of another earthquake that could spell the end of all they had worked hard for.

The Taas live in Nagtipulan in Lagangilang town, Abra, close to the epicenter of the magnitude 7.0 quake that struck July 27. The devastating tremor was a few points shy from the magnitude 7.7 quake that also jolted Northern Luzon in 1990.

In the town, an elderly lady, Luprinda Gandeza, sat on a bed under an awning of their home for shade. A baby rocker hung beside her. 

Nothing prepared the people of Lagangilang for what was to shatter their homes last Wednesday morning. Many of the people in the town have been working on their homes, making refurbishments prior to the disaster.

Since the tragedy struck, Imelda had been trying to move things around the damaged part of her home. Her husband, Fernando, remained quiet, sullen in the back, near the doorway, perhaps in disbelief on what had become of their home. 

What remained of the things they could save went on the table, and the rest were thrown away. Toothbrushes, plates, drinking glasses are all gone. 

"‘Yung pinsan ko po, pinabantayan niya yung bahay niya sa Bangued, 5 years, (inipon ko).'"

( I worked for a cousin as a house-sitter for five years and kept what I made as a lay away fund so we could build this house. I saved money for 5 years.) 

Their life in the upland parts of Abra did not permit an easy house repair. Things like cement and glass sliding windows don't come cheap in that part of the province, but all have big dreams for their homes.

Every now and then, Fernando would see something out of place in his destroyed house, such as a board that he had no choice but to just dispose of.

In the background, light from the window illuminated a bare and empty room filled with concrete debris.

Their children are grown up and have moved to other places with their families, with their own problems. It would be hard for the couple to ask their children for help this time around, the couple said.

"Walang tumutulong sa amin po. Anak ko, may mga asawa na. 'Yun lang po natira," Imelda said, pointing to her youngest son who has a disability. 

(We are not getting any help. Our children have their respective families already. There's just one of them who still lives with us.)

She looked longingly towards the kitchen, mentioning it often.

For many residents, the cost of home improvements range from a few thousand pesos to around P100,000, she had said.

The Taa couple had saved up that amount over five years, bit by bit, even doing odd jobs, just to improve their home. 

Imelda's brother, Rolando, also was silent, looking through his own house and biting his lip in deep thought. Siblings count on one another in times of tragedy, but this time it would be unfair for her to call on her brother for help. Can she seek his help when his house had also been been destroyed?
"Hindi po, kasi kaniya-kanoya kami kailangan ng tulong," she said.

(I don’t expect he would help since we are all in need.)

A few seconds of the tremor and all the resources poured to build their house had crumbled. Many residents of Lagangilang will need money in the thousands, to have their existing homes demolished and much more to have them rebuilt. The task may bring them to poverty, they fear.

The earthquake also brought additional burdens as victims with injuries will need to nurse their wounds outside of their homes and under makeshift sleeping tents.

What could one say in the face of this kind of devastation?

"Panginoon na lang po ang bahala sa amin." (We leave this all to God.) It's a cliche for some that has become all too real for the people of Nagtipulan.

In Bangued, the capital of Abra, people are also in need of help in rebuilding their homes.

For many, as in the case of Ronnie and Leilani Garcia, their home is also their workplace. 

The rescuers from the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) were busy digging through what appeared to be old brick pillars the size of ancient arch posts with heavy smooth rocks encased in disintegrating concrete substance.

Ronnie recalled that they had barely escaped when the quake shook even harder, with his niece pinned under the rubble as large as old brick pillars.

His eyes would shift from the work in front, then to another part of the house, then back again. Occasionally, he would thank the rescuers busy working.

‘Salamat, brod." (Thank you, brother.)

It helped that he could talk about the events that transpired last Wednesday. They were having their morning breakfast with his niece when the rocks fell. They ran out as fast as they can, but her niece’s feet were caught in the debris that had rumbled down. Without anyone’s help, he came back and pulled her out. It was a horrifying thought because his niece was pregnant at that time (his family was taking care of her). The debris would remind him of a split second of near misses, life or death choices.

"Opo, parang nakikita ko yung kapatid ko at pamangkin ko d'yan," Ronnie said as he points to the debris.

(Yes, [it is traumatic]. I can almost see now how my niece would have been pinned down there.)

On the third day, it would take a rescue crew from the BFP-National Capital Region just to unearth a crushed motorbike. The bike was one of Ronnie’s workhorses in his workshop. He repaired old refrigerators for a living. 

For now, he doesn't know where to start rebuilding, he said, which will eat up all his earnings from his workshop.

And when the remaining bits of rock were removed from the motorbike, it also came with a realization that the vehicle may no longer be used as a collateral item for a loan, as he hoped for. Instead, it looked like it would have to go to the junk shop.

Working as a technician meant he would need to wait for people to bring in their refrigerators for repair or accept other machines for fixing, to augment their income. They had made their house his workshop so they could save money to be used for the necessary home repairs. 

A big hole was left at the side of his home after the earthquake, and some pillars seem to be as wobbly as the rest. A second crash would make his house a pile of brick and stone. The roof will not serve its purpose once the rainy season comes again, as the walls have given in.

"Matagal po, 17 years po," he said of the time they have lived and worked in their destroyed house. "Napakahirap magsimula ulit," he added.

(Seventeen years... t would be hard to start all over again.)

The earthquake is estimated to have cost the province P316 million in damage. Majority of these are homes built with hard-earned family funds. As the region struggles from its slow ascent from the lingering COVID-19 pandemic, many families will need much more than the promised P10,000 cash aid.

For the Taa family and their neighbors in Lagangilang and the Garcia family of Bangued, there is no choice but to stay put and wait for aid. This will have to do for now, even as the ground is not done shaking yet. The people of Abra have to brace for more aftershocks. 

Rebuilding after devastating earthquake 1
Rebuilding after devastating earthquake 2
Rebuilding after devastating earthquake 3
Rebuilding after devastating earthquake 4
Rebuilding after devastating earthquake 5
Rebuilding after devastating earthquake 6
Rebuilding after devastating earthquake 7
Rebuilding after devastating earthquake 8
Rebuilding after devastating earthquake 9
Rebuilding after devastating earthquake 10
Rebuilding after devastating earthquake 11
Rebuilding after devastating earthquake 12
Rebuilding after devastating earthquake 13
Rebuilding after devastating earthquake 14
Rebuilding after devastating earthquake 15
Rebuilding after devastating earthquake 16

Imelda and Fernando Taa pause as they clear some debris. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Imelda and Fernando Taa sort usable items from the debris. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Imelda and Fernando Taa said they would have to use wood and bamboo for their home instead of cement. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Imelda Taa takes a breather from cleaning. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Imelda Taa moves a door that fell and injured her mother. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Filomena Taa (83) of Nagtipulan in Lagangilang, Abra gets relief from medical workers as they treat her open wounds. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Fernando Taa says it is going to take a number of years to get back on their feet again. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

They had to throw out most of their belongings. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

The home of Rolando Taa in Nagtipulan, Lagangilang, Abra. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Imelda and Fernando Taa visit their home days after the July 27 quake. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

The two survey the extent of the damage. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Rolando Taa surveys his home in Nagtipulan, Lagangilang, Abra on July 29, 2022. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

The quake left a large hole at Rolando Taa’s home. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Rolando Taa says he was not home during the quake and estimates it will take him a decade to have his house repaired. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Veronica Pico and Susana Pataray look at their damaged home in Nagtipulan, Lagangilang, Abra. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Lauprina Gandeza, 74, tears up as she waits for relief goods while staying at an outdoor tent. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News