In northern Mindanao in the Philippines, two storms in two years seem impossible. Particularly knowing that for more than 50 years, residents have never experienced a typhoon. In fact, in just two consecutive years, northern Mindanao was hit by two deadly typhoons. Typhoon Washi claimed more than 1,200 lives and Typhoon Bopha left at least 1,900 dead and 834 still missing.
Donata Cabili, 49 and her husband Salde, 50, together with their four kids have been living in San Miguel all their life. They recalled that typhoon Pablo was their first typhoon experience.
“Before Typhoon Pablo, we don’t know what a typhoon is. We just thought that it is just heavy rains. Because of our lack of knowledge, when we evacuated, we only got to pack some clothing but no food or anything else because we were all afraid the river current will wash out our house,” said Donata.
Recently, northern Mindanao was hit again by another storm last December 18, 2015. Although, forecasted as a tropical depression, Typhoon Onyok (local name) caused extreme flooding in some parts of Compostela Valley which resulted in evacuating 60 families in barangay San Miguel, Compostela.
“A day before the typhoon Onyok, we evacuated already. Our area leader has announced that we need to evacuate that day before the actual typhoon land. Unlike when Typhoon Pablo happened, there was no early warning and no update. We were not able to prepare or pack properly so all our things got wet. We didn’t know what we needed to do and when to evacuate,” said Donata.
With funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Catholic Relief Services (CRS) in the Philippines, works with seven municipalities in Compostela Valley region to strengthen disaster risk reduction and management of community leaders of the seven towns. Through the project, several community leaders have been trained in building their capacities in responding to disasters and emergencies.
“I am thankful that CRS has trained our community leaders in responding to emergencies. If not because of that, they would not be able to inform us properly on how to prepare during emergencies,” added Donata.
As an exercise for the community leaders, CRS conducted community drills in the towns they are working with, such as Compostela, New Bataan and Monkayo.
The community drills became a test to the leaders’ capacity and knowledge in applying what they have learned in the trainings provided by CRS.
According to Donata the barangay issued a notice that there will be a community drill. As one of the families living in a high risk area, Donata was happy that they have this kind of activity.
“I was excited because I thought that now, I will know what to do when a typhoon happens again. I told my children that they should all prepare and wait for the notice from our area leader when to evacuate. My children started packing their important things. I think they already learned from Pablo when all their school materials got washed out.”
In the town of Monkayo, similar community drill was conducted. And based from what the community leaders have learned, they put up tents for first aid, registration area, mess hall for cooking and preparing meals. Their evacuation centers even designated areas where the kids can play and a special room for persons with disabilities and even for senior citizens.
Nicasia, 89 years old, said that the evacuation drill was very organized. They know when they need to prepare and pack their things because their community leader is always updating them about the situation.
“When our community leader told us that we need to evacuate, we have prepared and packed our things already. So when they came with the vehicle to bring us to the evacuation centers, I was ready with all my valuable things,” said Nicasia.
She also recalled that when she arrived in the evacuation center, she was assisted all the way to her room assignment. “They got my things and brought it here in the room and then someone walked me here. Unlike before, everyone is panicking and they didn’t even know where to bring us,” added Nicasia.
Both Donata and Nicasia were thankful that the community drills were conducted. “I am thankful that there is an activity like this. Everyone has a role to play and it made things easier for all of us. It was very organized unlike before where I didn’t even know if it is time to evacuate or not,” says Donata.