Compostela-Cateel highway impassable; homeless residents pitch roadside tents

COMPOSTELA VALLEY, Compostela Valley Province  (MindaNews/06 December) – Hundreds of residents displaced or rendered homeless by Typhoon Pablo have pitched makeshift tents on  portions of the Compostela-Cateel highway, awaiting assistance, particularly food, water, tents, blankets, mat, clothing, flashlights and candles.

The 65-kilometer highway that connects the provinces of Compostela Valley and Davao Oriental was rendered impassable as tree trunks, electric posts and landslides blocked the road, leaving residents along that stretch isolated, a number of them stranded, including an ambulance ferrying a 13-year old girl who had just been discharged from a hospital in Davao City and who was returning home to Boston town in Davao Oriental, one of the towns where Typhoon Pablo slammed when it made landfall in Baganga town at around 4:45 a.m. Tuesday.

The Compostela-Cateel highway cuts travel time by two and half hours from Davao City – as it takes, rather took until Pablo came, only about five hours from the city to Cateel,  a town in Davao Oriental also hit hard by the typhoon, via this “shortcut” route compared with the 7.5 hours travel  from Davao City to Cateel via Mati City.  These days,  one can’t also proceed to Cateel via  Mati because the bridge connecting Caraga town with Baganga and Cateel towns was also destroyed.

Only habal-habal (motorcycles)  could navigate through at least ten landslides from Barangay Osmena all the way to the small-scale mining sites in Mambusao, Pulang Lupa and Bango. At least two major landslides have made traveling to Bango very difficult even for the habal-habal motorcycles,  one of which carried a corpse from the mining site to the poblacion Wednesday afternoon.

Joy Mesiona,  37, operations chief of a small-scale mining frim in Bango,  hiked at least 20 kilometers in his muddy boots,  looking so dazed. “Mga balay nangawala” (the houses disappeared), he told MindaNews at Purok 10 Ambawan, the  last area where four-wheel vehicles can pass, less than two kilometers from the junction in Montevista town.

He said he learned as he was coming down, that one person was killed in  Nursery and one in Mambusao. But he estimates about 25 persons missing among their neighbors as five households were buried in a landslide. He said neighbors were still searching for the missing when he left early Wednesday morning.

Jonjong Sarno, ground operations chief  of the same mining firm, said a team of four had just gotten out of the tunnel at 4 a.m. when the “kusog kaayo nga hangin” (very strong winds) struck the area, forcing them to go back to the tunnel where they stayed  until 6 a.m.  with only sheer will to survive. The winds had cut off their electricity supply much earlier and while there was no ventilation inside the tunnel, it was, for them at that point, the “safest area.”

Mesiona said 18 of them got inside the tunner, enduring the heat, the dark,  the lack of ventilation .

Riding on a habal-habal from Purok 10 Ambawan, one could clearly see how portions of  the

mountain road felt like winter, minus the snow, as falcatta and other trees were shorn of its leaves.

In other parts, the crowns of coconut trees were ripped off by the strong winds.

In the poblacion leading to the mountain,  on either side of the road along Barangay Osmena, houses made mostly of light materials turned upside down or were totally destroyed along with thousands of hectares of banana plants cut in half by the “kusog kaayo nga hangin” and flashfloods unleashed by Pablo from 4:30 a.m. to around 7 a.m. Tuesday.

Romeo Ratamas of Osmena Purok 5 and other residents  MindaNews talked to along the way said the rain was very light but the winds were “kusog kaayo.”

Annaliza Alilin, mother of six, pointed to her hut which almost turned upside down.

Like her neighbors, she acknowledged  they knew a typhoon was coming but did not think the impact would render them homeless.

What they did not expect, too, was the sudden rise in floodwaters, some saying it rose chest-deep.  “Hinay man ang ulan unya kalit lang nagtaas ang tubig” (The rain was light but the water rose so quickly).

But like many others pitching tents along the road, Alilin said they prefer to stay on the roadside rather than go to the gym about five kilometers away.

Habal-habal driver Rene Dequel, whose house in Osmena was also destroyed, said there will still be passengers on his habal-habal this month because relatives would want to know what has happened to their loved ones in the mine sites. But he worries about next month and the next months. 

Like most disaster aftermaths, they anticipate pronouncements of closures of the mining sites, displacing hundreds of mine workers. Hundreds of banana will also find themselves jobless, he said, adding bananas take nine months from planting to harvesting.  (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)