Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Pieces of Hope in Albay

Cagsawa Ruins, the famous landmark of Bicol region are still intact and are spared from the ravaging flash floods brought by typhoon Reming last year. It resulted to more than a thousand deaths from various municipalities surrounding the Mt. Mayon in Albay province.

It is contrary to the reports made by foreign and local media who covered the fiasco and said that it was washed away and half buried by pyroclastic materials from Mt. Mayon. Local residents said that mediamen were not able to reach the Cagsawa ruins because roads leading to it were impassable and full of boulders and sand that reaches up to 20 ft. high.

November 30, 2006, four months after the strong typhoon, I visited this place again and witnessed the real condition of the people and the landmark. The roads that led to it were already cleared but you can see the 20 feet wall of sands in both sides. Some houses were abandoned and was half-buried in the mud.

I saw construction-owned trucks passing back and forth loading boulders and sands from the former Busay river. It was devastated and now cleared with pyroclastic deposits, sands and boulders. Some folks are still trying to catch fish in this almost dried-up river.

While taking photos of the surrounding areas, I was able to meet Marwin Muerabuena, a 17- year-old survivor of the tragedy. He was unconscious and half-buried for 5 hours when he was rescued. He said he never thought he would survived. The experience was terrifying and everyone were shouting for help as the hot pyroclastic materials swept their barrio in an instant. Six of his family members were dead. Three were recovered a few kilometers aways and three were no longer found. He regained his consciousness in the hospital and kept on crying every time he recalled that fateful afternoon.

According to him, he was swept 4 kilometers away from their house together with his brother who was also rescued from the deep mud. He managed to grab a branch of tree but the ravaging flood dragged him down almost to his death. His mother survived by climbing a tree while her relatives managed to reach an elevated area and had relocated them just in time the flash floods came closer. Dead bodies according to other survivors were scattered in different places including those hanged on trees. Some were decapitated and headless due to some flying objects like roof or washed away along with other things.

In Brgy. Busay alone, there were more than 300 confirmed dead and more than 100 were missing or presumed buried. The nearby municipalities of Guinobatan had the worst casualties with an average of a thousand and counting.

People of Albay are on desperate needs for shelter, food and clothing. Government agencies such as the DSWD had evacuated and transferred the homeless to the school grounds. Bridges connecting the main highway were being repaired. Some private investors had not yet recovered and they had abandoned their ruined establishments. Many rice fields were awashed and livestocks and vegetables were scant to support the entire province. Mountains of "yero" or roof were sold to junk shops to amend for the lost properties.

I was able to witness the sufferings of this people in the eyes of Marvin. He accepted the fate and can't do anything about it but to move on and live. By being a peddler of photos and a tourist guide can he survive the aftermath of Mt. Mayon's fury.

I took a snap photo of him along with his buddy. I want to remember these people as survivors. Marvin told me "Siguro mahal ang camera mo, ako balang araw, gusto ko rin maging photographer." Indeed, these people still have dreams and do not lose hope despite of the tragedy. They still long for a better life after tomorrow. For now, they were eager to make a living even if they must be in school. They were restless and determined to help their families even through small means.

I took my wallet and gave some tokens as reward for opening and sharing their lives to me.
A life that is worth more than this story.

Related links:
Albay: One month after super typhoon Reming
Rummaging through the ruins of typhoon Reming
Family struggles to survive in Padang lahar site

Related News:
Bicol region faces dark Christmas
Slow Recovery for Albay Residents

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