Araceli resident Lydia Singson stands in front of her home that was destroyed during Odette's onslaught on December 17, 2021. (Palawan News photo)

Christmas will not be a season for Noche Buena and gifts in seriously Odette-affected areas in Puerto Princesa City and Palawan province, but rather a call for shelter and food.

Odette, the 15th tropical storm to struck the country this year did not only leave a path of destruction in her wake but people who are bewildered and frightened about what to do next in their lives.

Lawyer Christian Jay Cojamco, spokesperson of the Palawan provincial government, said Friday that in Araceli, the hardest typhoon-hit municipality in the north, the number of families that will celebrate Christmas in their temporary living quarters is 3,865 based on partial information.

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Aerial photo of the town of Araceli. (Photo from Palawan PDRRMO)

After Odette slammed Roxas town on Friday, December 17, over 90% of houses in the town were completely destroyed. An estimated 22,000 families from 31 barangays were affected. They too, said Cojamco, will spend Christmas for now in the evacuation areas.

“Ang Roxas natin ay mayroon tayong 22,000 na pamilya na nasa mga evacuation centers pa. Sa Araceli, wala tayong data pa kasi katatapos lang ng radio contact natin doon. Ang una kasing nabanggit doon, although partial information pa ito, is 3,865 families. Sa San Vicente, hindi pa rin nakakauwi lahat, may 261 doon na families na nag-evacuate. Pero kung nakauwi na sila, for verification pa,” he said.

In an interview with Palawan News on Wednesday, Mayor Sue Cudilla of Araceli, appearing disheartened because of what had become of her town, said that the biggest concern after Odette’s onslaught was food for the people and shelter.

She stated that because communication was disrupted, they had to send someone to travel 6-7 kilometers to acquire a decent signal to call somebody for assistance.

“Pang apat na araw na ngayon lang kami nakatanggap ng ilang food packs. Wala na kaming pondo sa LGU para masuportahan ang pagkain ng halos lahat na apektado,” Cudilla said.

“Durog na durog kami, wala ng mga bahay na mauuwian ang mga tao, ang mga bangka nila wala na, mga pananim nila, yun lang ang pinagkakakitaan ng mga taga Araceli. Alam mo ang pakiramdam ng alam mong wala ka ng bahay na uuwian, paano mo uli bubuohin yun kung wala ka na rin magagamit para sa hanapbuhay? Wala. Magsisimula kami sa zero,” she added.

As Araceli’s mother, she is afraid to face the people of her town who will question her on how they should move from Odette’s destruction because they no longer have funds to help restore their homes.

“Tulong. Yan ang kailangan namin. Ubos kami. Walang wala kami. Mahirap, sobrang hirap, pero sa tulong ng national government, LGU, at provincial government, babangon kami. Babangon ang Araceli — isang taon, babangon kami,” she stated.

Troops from the Marine Battalion Landing Team-3 rescue an elderly woman in Roxas municipality. (Photo from MBLT-3)

Lydia Singson, an elderly local resident who lost her home to Odette, said she never imagined such destruction would befall her family and Araceli.

She and her family were helpless to do anything but watch as their roof was ripped away by the wind, which was blowing at 185 kilometers per hour. Eventually came their small house’s walls, and then everything else.

Lydia expressed regret for failing to save any of their possessions as they evacuated to the emergency shelter, where they have remained for a week now.

“Masakit ang aming damdamin na wala na kaming bahay, mag-iisang linggo na kami sa evacuation. Noong bagyo, nag-iyakan kami kasi ang lakas ng bagyo, [nag]liparan ang mga bubong, tapos ang kahoy na nagbagsak, nagtusok talaga sa harapan namin,” she said.

“Malakas talaga — naglipatan kami sa kwarto, tapos doon na naman may nagbagsak, lipat na naman kami sa iba. Nakakatakot, matagal na ako dito sa mundo, ngayon lang ako nakaranas ng ganito, matanda na ako,” Lydia recounted the events as tears welled up in her eyes at the sight of their damaged home.

She said that celebrating Christmas in the evacuation center will be difficult because they do not have a place to return to. Their family is hoping for construction materials as Christmas presents to repair their home so they could all return before the New Year.

Barangay 4 seaside in Roxas town in the aftermath of Typhoon Odette. (PN file photo)

Lydia and her family aren’t the only ones who are having a rough Christmas. About 37 kilometers away from Araceli, the mainland town of Roxas was also severely impacted by Odette.

Marky, who is now taking temporary shelter at the barangay hall, had lost his excitement for the season. Instead, he wishes to give his family a place to live after the typhoon destroyed their home in Barangay 1’s coastal area.

“Sa amin, ang gusto [ko] lang sana mangyari, bahay. Kasi ‘yon talaga ang pinaka-need. Mahirap din kasi sa barangay (hall), ang hirap na wala kang sariling tahanan,” he said.

Pablo Muri Jr. took his family from Johnsons Island to the Poblacion area, including his 86-year-old mother. Just to leave their house and board a boat to escape the island, he carried his mother on his back.

“Mga dating bagyo, hindi namin inaalisan pero ngayon— nagtago na kami. Sa amin wala na ring atip, kailangan makabili ng pako. Mamaya maghahanap kami kahit may makuha kaming boarding house kahit mura, matapos lang ito,” he said.

The storm that struck Palawan with unexpected ferocity destroyed coastal homes and damaged infrastructure in various barangays in Roxas.

It became a brown-colored town days after the storm due to logs, fallen trees, muds, dried leaves, and other debris carried by Odette’s onslaught.

Adelaeda Beleganyo, in her 70s, observed that this was her first encounter with an intense storm that destroyed not just their homes but also their livelihood in fishing.

Adelaeda and other fishermen are now unsure where their income will come from now that their boats have been wrecked.

“Gutom na kami, wala na kaming makain,” she said.

Vicky Maburao, 41, said that any amount donated for food would be highly appreciated.

“Dito kami sa tabi ng bahay ko ngayon na nagiba. Wala talagang naiwan, mga bahay ko, kapit-bahay, nasira talaga ng bagyo. Unti-unti na kami nag-evacuate, ako na nahuli. Hindi ko talaga makalimutan, hindi ako nakakain,” Vicky narrated.

Even Mayor Dennis Sabando is unsure of how Roxas will spend the few hours remaining till Christmas Eve. Recovery may take a long time to occur, and for the time being, they are grateful for the gift of life.

“Mahirap sabihin, depende sa tao kung masaya o malungkot. Pero sabi ko nga sa kanila, pagtulungan natin kung anong kakayanin na mapagtulungan,” he said.

“Huwag natin isipin kung anong naidulot ng bagyo, ang ating isipin ay tayo ay buhay. Pasalamatan pa rin natin ang ating Panginoon, ang lahat ng tao ay halos buhay pa,” he added.

Apart from shelter and food, Sabando suggested allocating funds for boats to assist villagers in resuming fishing livelihoods.

Roxas remains without electricity and is reliant on generator sets to power the town and operate water refilling facilities for residents to have clean drinking water.

Relief efforts

Several public and private relief initiatives and donation campaigns have been undertaken to aid the city’s and province’s typhoon victims since December 19, when Odette exited the country’s borders.

The Palawenyo Savers Club (PSC) supplied bread and rice to several barangays in northern Palawan on December 21. The organization, which has always been dedicated to empowering the local community, has since begun generating additional funds for relief efforts in collaboration with other organizations such as Brigada.

Aside from these, the group members also provided assistance to each other as soon as the storm hit. Immediate help was extended to the group’s employees, and the group provided shelter for two neighboring families at the height of the storm Odette.

More efforts, starting with additional fundraising, are currently underway.

“It has always been the PSC objective to improve the lives of its members, and uplift Palawan communities in any way we can,” a PSC representative told Palawan News.

Alpha Sigma Phi Fraternity and Sorority also distributed Christmas food packs to residents in Barangay Maoyon.

Palawan News has also partnered with PSC and the Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI) to raise funds.

Local chapter organizations of the JCI Philippines , Inc. (Peacock, Oil, Kiao, Narra Grains, Roxas Casuy, and Palawan Region), and Ahon Palaweño are holding cash and in-kind donation drives to help the victims of Odette.

According to Cojamco, the provincial government has already distributed so far about 11,125 family food packs and some 1,510 rice sacks in affected areas.

With the province under a state of calamity, the local government is hoping to tap into some P36.4 million in calamity funds for its disaster relief efforts. (with reports from Celeste Anna Formoso, Patricia Laririt, Arphil Ballarta, and Rachel Ganancial)

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