Siargao Island: from world-famous destination to ‘Ground Zero’ of  super typhoon ‘Odette’

GENERAL LUNA, Siargao Island, Surigao del Norte (MindaNews / 19 December) —  The world-famous island is now Ground Zero of super typhoon ‘Odette’: no power, no phone signals,  limited supply of water, food, medicines and urgent need for shelter for thousands rendered homeless or roofless.

The arena at the Siargao Sports Complex in Dapa is wrecked in this photo taken December 16, 2021, shortly after super typhoon “Odette” wreaked havoc in the island. More than a thousand people – mostly women and children, including tourists and foreigners residing in the island – who sought refuge in the newly inaugurated structure miraculously survived. MindaNews photo by ROEL N. CATOTO

“Please help me tell the world that General Luna is now at its worst situation,” General Luna mayor Cecilia Rusillon told MindaNews on Friday morning.

At least 15 deaths have been reported as of Sunday, December 19, according to Surigao del Norte Governor Francisco Matugas.

“Odette,” which made its first landfall in the Philippines in Siargao Island at 1:30 p.m. on Thursday, December 16 ,  “totally devastated” the area, said the Governor, who hails from this island.

The road from Dapa town to General Luna became accessible only at 4 p.m  on Friday, December 17, or 26 hours after the landfall.  Residents, with the help of  government agencies, resort establishments and other private firms cleared the road of felled trees, toppled electric posts and other debris unleashed by ‘Odette’s’ fury.

Residents complained of hunger,  a problem the local government is trying to address.

Need for medicines, makeshift clinic

Dr. TJ Manalang, head of the General Luna Municipal Health Office said their office was totally wrecked. Medical supplies, however, were salvaged.

“We need oral medicines, medical supplies, and we need to have makeshift clinic at mayor’s house,” Manalang said.

He said many suffered cuts and other injuries during the typhoon’s onslaught. “We ran out of medical supplies and but we got some emergency meds from resorts that we salvaged. But we need lots of it,” he said.

Nilo Reyes, chief of the Municipal Disaster Risk Reduction Management Office of General Luna, said they cannot help as they are also victims.

He was caught during the onslaught but managed to reach the Siargao Sports Complex in Dapa, where thousands had earlier evacuated. The gym’s roof was ripped off by ‘Odette.’

Reyes narrated that the emergency vehicle he was driving flipped due to strong winds.

“All of our vehicles were either trapped by debris or immobilized,” he said.  His crew lost their houses to the typhoon.

Roads are blocked with fallen trees and other debris – like this one in Barangay Osmeña in the municipality of Dapa – all over Siargao Island after super typhoon “Odette” wreaked havoc in the area when it made landfall on December 16, 2021. MindaNews photo by ROEL N. CATOTO

“Unrecognizable”

“The island is now unrecognizable,” said Atty. Lucille Sering, former secretary of Climate Change, who flew on a helicopter to see the extent of the damage of her home island.

Sering also borrowed a motorbike from a friend and drove around General Luna to see the devastation.

“I think we need drinking water,” Sering said. She offered her property in Del Carmen which has a natural spring water.

Governor Matugas  was trapped along with his staff and wife Sol, the former Governor, in San Isidro town in Siargao when ‘Odette’ made its first of nine landfalls in the Philippines.

He said they sought shelter at the San Isidro Municipal Hall.  “This is my second life now,”  he said.

General Luna Mayor Rusillon met executives of the telecommunication firm, Globe, whose helicopter landed at the back of the mayor’s property in Poblacion 4 at around 4 p.m. on Friday.

“They promised us we would have a limited signal in a few days,” she said.

Lootings

Lootings around shops were reported after the onslaught of the typhoon but kind-hearted individuals gave whatever they have such as food, clothing and space .

April Cuadra of Balay Yuhom got looted. “Some food and drinks were stolen,” she said on Friday noon.

Hundreds of tourists are still trapped in the island, a number of them surviving on salvaged resources.

Siargao airport manager Josepina Nuñez said 44 tourists were able to fly to Manila Saturday afternoon on the plane that  flew to Siargao bringing relief goods.

Incoming sweeper flights are courtesy of Sunlight and are loaded with relief goods, said Len Coro, daughter of  Del Carmen Mayor Proserfina Coro, who is helping organize the flow.

Philippine Airlines also landed on Sunday afternoon loaded with relief goods.

Tourists trapped here when ‘Odette’ battered the island, rejoiced at the airport as the plane landed.  They could now go home.

Nelson Calipes, owner of Mama Coco, a restobar in General Luna, was ecstatic upon the arrival of Philippine Airlines at 4:40 pm. He is bound for Manila.

“We gave all the drinks to people the day after the storm, we organized community pantry, libre kaon (free meals),  he said.

“We need shelter now,” Del Carmen mayor Coro said of the urgent need to help residents whose houses were destroyed by ‘Odette.’  (Roel N. Catoto / MindaNews)