By Andy Smith, OMF Philippines
Storms often blow through Bicol. Still, the one that struck the last week of September was different. Typhoon Milenyo gave little advanced notice. It moved quickly. Since its winds whirled at ground level, it devastated some areas and hardly touched others. In its wake, it left huge numbers of puzzled people.
“Why us?” enquired Onofre. He holds the highest political post in the part of Bacon District, Sorsogon City, that took a direct hit. “150 of 1,050 houses were destroyed. Another 600 were damaged. The entire area was flooded. Many of our residents rely on coconuts for their livelihood. But the trees were severely battered. Three years will pass before they bear fruit again. And just this morning, I learned that we have an outbreak of dengue fever.”
“I have an idea why my house was destroyed,” confessed Maria. She and her husband live just beyond the seawall. Monster waves leapt over the wall into their house and many others. “I had started attending a Bible study a few months ago. Then I got too busy. I quit attending shortly before the storm hit.”
“It’s not fair,” complained Jose. The elderly man suffers from diabetes and its complications. “I had arranged for a man to harvest the coconuts on my property in the hills. But the storm knocked them to the ground. Early the next morning, scavengers stole them. When the man went two days later, there was nothing to gather. I won’t be able to buy my medicines for several months.”
“It nearly wiped us out,” explained Adolfo. His family’s house and bread-baking operation stand in a low ravine. “The storm knocked down several trees above the bridge. The waters carried them quickly to the bridge, forming a dam there. This turned the rising waters into our ravine. Before I knew it, the water was as high as our windows. It washed away our baking equipment and the bags of flour and salt that I had just bought.”
“Praise God,” whispered Ignacio. “Look at the remains of those large trees that used to surround our old plank house. The storm uprooted every one. Miraculously, not one of them landed on our house. If even one had, it would have turned it into a pile of splinters and probably killed us.”
Each of these called Typhoon Milenyo the worst of their life. But several others interviewed pointed to Sening (1970) with its 275 kph winds, Sisang (1987) that caused 979 deaths, or slow-moving Rosing (1995). Evidence suggests that Milenyo was selective. A compact storm, if it passed over you, it destroyed almost everything. But if it passed even a short distance from you, it caused relatively minor damage.
Wednesday, September 27 started like most days. Bicolanos woke up to a blazing sun. The Philippine government agency had warned of an approaching storm. But it could not be seen on the horizon. They assumed that the agency had erred again.
By noon, however, the wind was strengthening and the sky darkening. The front edge of the storm reached Bacon at 3 p.m. For three hours, it pounded the area. Then it suddenly stopped. It took thirty minutes for the eye to pass over.
At 6:30 p.m., the terrible south wind struck. It howled for 1-1/2 hours. Like a whirlwind, it mangled everything in its path. A lesser storm brings whistling winds. Milenyo’s winds roared like a jet airplane taking off.
Houses swayed. People grabbed each other, screaming in fear. Most cried out to God. Many did not expect to survive the night.
The storm attacked their houses. It flattened some, scattered some, and knocked some on their side. It peeled back the galvanized iron roof on sturdier houses and shattered their windows. It ripped a wall off many houses.
Flash floods of water or mud came next. They washed away possessions and livelihoods. One man saw his pigs swept away, trying to keep their snouts above water. After the storm, he found one surviving piglet on his roof!
During such a storm, the wind tosses debris like javelins. Many people were forced to flee from their house. A number of them were killed when hit by flying debris. Many drivers of public transportation were still on the streets. Some of their vehicles were crushed. Others were tossed around at will. There was no place to hide.
The hills of Sorsogon are normally lush and green. Trees and undergrowth thrive there all year round. But the storm, like a vacuum cleaner, sucked up that undergrowth. It also stripped leaves off trees, and even the bark off some.
Those were the fortunate trees. Others were snapped like tooth picks. Countless ones were uprooted. Many storms topple banana trees. Strong ones conquer acacia and coconut trees. Milenyo even shredded and uprooted stands of bamboo. Amazingly, trees fell in every possible direction. They blocked most roadways.
Poles fared no better. Many were snapped in half, toppled, or left leaning, whether wooden, concrete, or metal. When one fell, it often dragged down many others. Their lines snapped like thread. Television and cable TV were left dangling. Piles of power lines blocked sidewalks.
A few hours later, Milenyo repeated these events in Legazpi City and Daraga, Albay. A bit later in Camalig, then Guinobatan, then Ligao and Tabaco, then Oas, then Polangui, up to Pili, Camarines Sur. Then it turned left and headed to Quezon province. It reached Metro Manila the next day in the early afternoon.
How do you deal with the aftermath of such a disaster? After Milenyo, Bicolanos started cleaning up. They cut branches and cleared roadways. They sifted through the debris looking for anything they could use. Soon, lines of wet clothes were strung up everywhere. Wet books were spread on the ground as though sunbathing.
Over a million people got used to life without electricity. A family member joined the long line at the gas station daily to buy kerosene. Where water distribution was interrupted, another spent much of each day filling buckets at a well. Families with saving accounts sent someone to line up at the bank.
Men gathered materials to rebuild their family’s house. Women peddled anything they thought had value. School having been cancelled, children played where they could.
OMF Philippines sent relief funds to several areas. In Sorsogon, it provided many families funds to partially rebuild or repair their house. It was among the first relief to reach them. This showed some former opponents that we are not a cult. It also won us the favor of some influential people.
In Bacon alone, 24 families now attend Bible studies in 10 locations. We want these to develop into house churches. Ask the Lord to reveal Himself to the attendees. Pray that the Holy Spirit would comfort and strengthen them as they rebuild their lives.
Adolfo wisely remarked, “The greater the problem, the more likely it is that we will see the power of God.” Perhaps this is part of the reason why God directed Milenyo to certain areas. He wants to draw the people in these particular places to Himself.