The morning after ‘Odette,’ Mindanawons woke up to a ‘strange world’

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 19 December) –  Super typhoon ‘Odette’ (Rai) made two landfalls in Mindanao before moving on to the Visayas on Thursday, December 16: the first landfall at 1:30 p.m. in Siargao Island, Surigao del Norte and the second at 3:10 p.m. in Cagdianao, Dinagat Islands province.

But the swath of destruction it left behind would not be known until 24 hours later in the case of the world-famous tourist destination Siargao, and 36 hours later in the case of Dinagat, when their provincial governors posted their initial reports via social media.

Communication within and with these areas was cut off as telecommunication facilities of service providers were toppled by the second super typhoon to make landfall in Mindanao since Pablo in December 2012.

Signal No. 4 was raised over Dinagat Islands in November 2013 but super typhoon Yolanda just passed over Dinagat and made landfall in Guian in Eastern Samar.

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

Telecommunication systems in the rest of Mindanao also broke down and Mindanawon residents woke up Friday morning to a “strange world,” unable to connect by mobile phone or internet, by text, chat, e-mail or make voice and video calls.

They watched television news mostly on what was happening in the Visayas but were in the dark as to what was happening among themselves in their cities and towns and elsewhere in Mindanao, particularly in Siargao and Dinagat where Odette made the first two of what would be nine landfalls.

Super typhoon ‘Pablo’ did not cause a Mindanao-wide problem in connectivity in 2012. Telecommunication was cut off in areas hardest hit such as Baganga in Davao Oriental where Pablo made its landfall, and neighboring towns like Cateel.

In 2021, relatives of  Siargao and Dinagat residents who reside elsewhere were frantic as hours passed with no means to communicate with their loved ones, and as photographs and video clips on the devastation in these islands finally started coming out on Saturday,  relatives became even more anxious.

“Leveled to the ground,” “Totally devastated”

Dinagat Islands Governor Arlene “Kaka” Bag-ao whose description of Dinagat after ‘Odette’ is that it has been “levelled to the ground,” sent a team from her province to the mainland to seek badly needed help. The nearest center in the mainland from Dinagat is Surigao City but her team had to travel to Butuan City, at least three hours away on ordinary days, to inform authorities of their urgent needs and to post an update on her social media page.

The governor’s team posted her message and photographs of the devastation on her Facebook page shortly after 12 a.m. on Saturday.

Dinagat Islands after Typhoon “Odette.” From the Facebook page of Gov. Kaka Bag-ao

On Saturday morning, photographs of the devastation in Surigao City started coming out on social media, posted by residents there who traveled to Butuan City to inform their relatives they are alive.

Capt. Jonald Romoroso, spokesperson of the Butuan-based Army’s 402nd Infantry Brigade said they flew to Siargao on Friday to hand over a satellite phone and radio communication to Surigao del Norte Governor Francisco Matugas.

Romoroso said they also flew to Dinagat to hand over a satellite phone and other communication equipment but inclement weather prevented them from landing.

The satellite phone enabled Matugas to report to his constituents via social media what was happening in Siargao at 1:12 p.m.that day, or 18 minutes short of 24 hours since Odette’s landfall there. “Totally devastated” was his description of the “entire island.”  He estimated damage at 20 billion pesos.

As of that time, he said, two deaths had been reported.  By Sunday, 15 deaths had been reported to the governor.

Matugas, who hails from Siargao, said they are safe but their ancestral house in Dapa is “80% damaged.”

The governor was stranded in the town hall of San Isidro at 1 p.m. on Thursday. He noted that by 2 p.m., “the strongest probably Category 4 Typhoon battered San Isidro for two hours which totally damaged buildings and other structures.”

He called on President Rodrigo Duterte and Senator Bong Go for “food and construction materials.”

Matugas’ party left San Isidro at 4 a.m. on Friday and it took them six hours to reach Dapa as they had to clear the road of felled trees and electric posts “as DPWH (Department of Public Works and Highways) (is) not doing their job.”

“Tawag Center”

Shortly before noon on Saturday, Surigao del Norte Rep. Francisco “Bingo” Matugas, the governor’s son, announced that a Tawag Center was being set up in Siargao at the Kapitolyo Nan Siargao Bldg along the national highway in Dapa town, for residents to call their loved ones residing elsewhere. The Tawag Center is courtesy of PLDT-Smart, he said.

But it is not only Siargao and Dinagat islands that suffered from Odette’s wrath.

Surigao City was badly battered as well, its telecommunications and electricity down, too.

A call for help from Siargao, Surigao del Norte. Residents of General Luna town wrote this on the Tourism Road. MindaNews photo by ROEL N. CATOTO

In other parts of Mindanao,  waking up to a “strange world” was a common sentiment expressed by residents upon realizing on Friday morning that  the telecommunications system was down.

In the cities, having gotten used to online transactions for food deliveries and other errands in the past 21 months due to the COVID-19 pandemic, no connection meant no transaction. Riders  or those who deliver food, medicines and other errands suddenly had no customers as no one could connect.

In Davao City, residents used to calling a taxi through the phone had to walk to the nearest street where taxis could be hailed. Taxi drivers had to spend more for gas while plying the streets for passengers instead of receiving instructions from the command center on where to pick-up passengers.

Those working from home realized they could not work because they could not go online.

And school children who woke up on Friday morning excited to dress up for their online Christmas party, cried thinking they were the only one absent in the party.

In some parts, internet connection was restored Friday evening but it would take another 24 hours or until Saturday evening, before connectivity was fully restored.  (Carolyn O. Arguillas with a report from Froilan Gallardo / MindaNews)