Senior beneficiaries: we couldn’t finish our lunch as we had to run from the flood

Stories from the Philippines. Please read the introduction HERE.

“Story, story!” would thousands of grandchildren all over the world cadge, sitting on their grandparents’ laps, eating chocolate bars and absorbing every sweet memory their grannies would tell. But what if the stories aren’t so sweet at all? What if there is no chocolate nor food? Or even worse – what if there are no grandchildren because apparently, they had to escape to the mountains to survive the typhoon? 

They are Fidela Ermundo (71 years old), Florita Auxtero (60), Benedecto Carabantes (71), Cepriana Basmayor (64), Pedro Basmayor (67) and Lucita Providencia (61) – inhabitants of the Philippines, Mindanao, Lanao del Norte; survivors of the typhoon Vinta. A tropical cyclone which triggered massive floods and landslides, left more than 200 people dead and forced nearly 16 000 to evacuate.

All this happened in 2017, just a couple of days before the Christmas Eve. Since then these seniors have been living mainly in the tents. They don’t have a proper place to cook food to their grandchildren, but they do have stories. No doubt.

Seniors affected by a tropical cyclone (from left to right): Benedecto, Lucita, Pedro, Florita, Fidela and Cepriana

A rescue from the water and evacuated children

“When typhoon Vinta happened, we ran away together with my sister. If it wasn’t my sister I would have been carried away by the flood,” Fidela carefully starts.

Florita continues: “The water was already high in our house. We went to the mountains but got trapped, the water raised until our waists. The rescuer arrived and threw us the ropes, so we could hold on and cross the river. The mayor came as well – and pulled us away from the flood.”

Pedro, a grayish haired farmer, shortly notes that when they saw a large amount of water coming they just started to run towards the evacuation area. Next to him Benedecto utters that he was very unfortunate. “I was the last one to leave and I saw how my neighbour’s house was coming towards ours – I immediately left and didn’t look back, the feeling I had was indescribable. I crossed the river, reached the other side and the electricity cut off. When I finally turned around the bridge fell down. All the houses were washed out.”

Florita notes that back then her house was still under the construction – they were about to build another storey. And up until now they are still recovering – the debts need to be paid. Though, when it comes to the lives of the people, they were rather lucky. “My grandchildren were evacuated to the mountains. We don’t even know who brought them there since their mother was trapped in the lower area and they couldn’t cross the river either because of the destroyed bridge. Also, the water was too deep. My uncle was swept away.”

Seniors in a temporary tent.

Emotions after the typhoon

Even though it’s hard, Cepriana tries to put the feelings into the words. What happened after the hazard? “We didn’t have food, we couldn’t sleep. We were only thinking that whatever else is going to happen we will just run away. We wouldn’t care anymore. The water was until our knees – that was okay, our biggest fear was a possible landslide. It was the strongest typhoon we’ve ever experienced.” She adds that all this happened around 11 in the morning. Yes, exactly the time when people were preparing to have their lunch. That is also one of the reasons why at the end so many people were affected. “We didn’t eat, we just ran!” Cepriana concludes.

Current situation: hot tents, sicknesses and a long walk to the comfort room

Quite recently the area of Lanao del Norte, Mindanao was again affected by strong rain and flash flood caused by a low pressure area which developed into a tropical depression Falcon. Many of the farmers couldn’t cross the river to go and work on their fields. The conditions in the tent area are getting worse.

“It’s very, very hot in the tents. If it rains, our people are scared. If anyone gets sick we don’t have enough medicines. We have a communal toilet but it’s very dirty,” Lucita states. Cepriana confesses that sometimes she asks a favor from the neighbor to use their comfort room. “Before we did have a comfort room for senior citizens, but it got easily full and damaged because many people were using it. Now we have to walk far away,” says Florita.

The houses in the relocation area are not completed and the seniors have been waiting for a long time, living in the temporary tents. Lucita says that she is willing to help with the construction if it would fasten the process and if her body allows. “I still might get fatigue,” 61-year-old Lucita admits.

The houses in the relocation site.

“We only want to have a safe place to live, far away from the river – protected from the next floods. That is our main priority at the moment. Well, as long as we have something to eat,” the seniors say. And despite the challenges still manage to put on a hopeful smile.  

To be continued…

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