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'Super Yolanda' was a great equaliser

Publication Date : 03-01-2014


Last year’s Supertyphoon “Yolanda” was a great equaliser.

It levelled the houses of the rich and the poor alike; it played no favourites. But the rich suffered more than the poor.

One important lesson is that without electricity the rich are helpless. All their labour-saving devices—washing machines, refrigerators, television sets, radios, rice cookers, air conditioners, electric fans, etc.—become useless without electricity.

Not only that, during Yolanda most of them were blown away along with the houses. And those that were not, the storm surge soaked them; and had there been electricity they would have short-circuited and would have electrocuted their owners.

The rich homeowners had money, but there was nothing to buy. The stores and warehouses had been looted. Even when they could buy rice from the looters, they could not cook them. Their electric stoves were useless without electricity. So when the canned food ran out, the rich had nothing to eat.

There were the food packages distributed by the Department of Social Welfare and Development, but the rich had to endure the long lines and long wait for the relief supplies along with the poor. Each food pack contained three kilos of rice, canned sardines, coffee and sugar, etc. But as pointed out earlier, they could not cook the rice because there was no electricity for the electric stove. They could not open the canned sardines, either because they only had electric-operated can openers. They had never even thought of buying a manual can opener. And they could neither heat water for the coffee. They could not make a fire out of the wood from the houses scattered everywhere because they had no matches with which to start one. They could not buy any match, either, because all the stores were closed. And even if they had matches, they could not make a fire because the wood was wet.
Helpless, and with the stink from the rotting corpses getting stronger, the rich fled Leyte in droves. But they had to wait hours, even days, to get aboard one of the C-130 cargo planes flying back to Manila. And once aboard, they had to endure the crowding in the cramped space, huddled closely together, with the smell of unwashed bodies redolent in the enclosed space of the airplane. They had money with which to buy tickets for commercial flights, but no commercial flights landed in Tacloban or in any other airport in Leyte in those first days after the typhoon. The plight of the rich, I am sorry to say, was really miserable.
What about the poor, how did they fare after Yolanda? They fared much better. Because they are used to discomfort and suffering, to doing without.

Yes, their flimsy houses, made of light materials, were the first to be blown down by Yolanda. But since they know how to work with their hands, they were already up and about, rebuilding their homes, the day after Yolanda left.

To cite an example, there’s this one poor farmer-family in the town of Kananga, a neighbour of Ormoc City. The name of the head of the family is Mamerto Flores, a farmer in his 60s.

Flores and members of his family did not even bother to line up for the food packs that were being distributed. They had plenty of food. Before Yolanda hit, they had the presence of mind to wrap in plastic sheets the huge basket where they stored their palay. So they had plenty of rice.

For viands, they had eggs and chicken in the chicken coop that was protected from the elements by a low hillock. They collected fallen coconuts scattered all over the farm. They drank the coconut water and ate the meat. They did not dare drink water from the well which could be polluted. They used its water only for washing and cooking. They mixed coconut milk with the eggs and chicken.

Flores and his sons immediately went about rebuilding their house. There was plenty of fallen coconut trees for coco lumber. For the smaller pieces of lumber needed,  Flores chose wood from the destroyed houses that were scattered everywhere. He salvaged galvanised iron roofing from the ruins. He extracted nails from the scattered wood.

Within a week, Flores and his sons had built a new house, with GI roofing, plywood walls, and wooden floors. They even had wooden doors and windows salvaged from the debris.

Then Flores thought of making charcoal out of the tonnes and tonnes of wooden debris.

It is easy to make charcoal. You simply dig a pit, dump wood in it and set the wood on fire. While the fire is still burning, you cover the pit with the top of a steel drum. Then you pile soil on the steel to prevent air from coming in. The fire will continue burning until the oxygen runs out, leaving charcoal. You open the pit the next day after it has cooled down. Then you remove the charcoal, dump more wood in the pit, set it on fire and repeat the whole process.

Flores sold the charcoal in town where there was a great demand for it for cooking because all the electric stoves were useless and the firewood that could be salvaged from the debris were wet. Besides, people were afraid to root around the debris because they might find corpses buried under them.

Now Flores is digging more charcoal pits. There is so much wood in the debris that could be burned into charcoal; Flores is thinking of exporting some to neighbouring towns and perhaps even to  Manila.
The debris has to be cleared anyway, he said. We might as well derive some use out of it.

The same is true not only of Flores but also of his farmer-neighbours. It would take more than a supertyphoon to reduce them to begging.


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