Tacloban stirs back to life

Jonathan Carson - The Philippine Star

TACLOBAN CITY, Philippines - – Amid the chaos and destruction left behind by Super Typhoon Yolanda, the new home of Geraldvin Balicog is taking shape.

The shell of a new home for his wife, Marietta, and one-year-old daughter, Lover Gem, stands among the ruins on the outskirts of Tacloban City – one of the areas worst hit by the violent storm on Nov. 8.

The Balicogs’ new house is surrounded by complete devastation.

Houses in the path of the storm surge, which hammered the coast in three or four tsunami-like waves, were battered to pieces. It seems that nothing in this area was spared from the wrath of Yolanda.

Balicog has been working on the structure since Monday, using the materials from his original house, which was destroyed by the typhoon, and some materials given to him by a neighbor.

It is a small sign of progress in this devastated community. A sign that some victims are starting to pick up the pieces and rebuild their lives in the face of extreme adversity. A new beginning.

About 5 a.m. on Friday, Nov. 8, the strong winds of Yolanda snapped a large branch from a tree that crushed the roof of Balicog’s house, hitting him on the head.

Balicog and his family took shelter in a concrete building next door and when they returned to their house later in the day, they found it had been completely wiped out.

Balicog’s wife ran a canteen at the house so it was also a source of income for the family.

“I have to work hard because I have a family to support,” he said. “I don’t know how long it will take to finish. I build as I find the materials.”

Balicog, who was a maintenance worker at Gaisano Mall before the storm hit, was among the few who decided to rebuild from scratch so soon after losing everything.

Thousands of people have fled Tacloban City and other areas in Leyte and Samar affected by the storm to Manila and Cebu, opting not to deal with the aftermath.

It was understandable. The damage is overwhelming and a functional future could be years away. When body bags still haven’t been removed from the roadside almost two weeks after a disaster, one has to question how long it’s going to take to restore a sense of normality for the people who live here.

For many, it’s a matter of doing what they can with what they can scavenge from the rubble. Makeshift shacks are popping up where houses once stood. They provide temporary shelter from the elements and a place to call home, but they will not withstand another storm, let alone another Yolanda.

President Aquino said on Monday that communities were already starting to talk about replanting crops and rebuilding homes, but he wanted to make sure that, with the support of government, they were of reasonable quality.

“We want to rebuild them in a better situation able to withstand the typhoons that come to our country every year,” Aquino said.

Lolita Flores, 50, a schoolteacher at Tanauan National School, said Filipinos have a unique ability to pick themselves up after being knocked down that, for many people, was rooted in a strong Christian faith.

Flores’ house was washed away and she wants to rebuild two smaller houses. One on where her house originally stood and another close to the mountain so that they can flee to higher ground in the event of another storm surge.

“We do have resilience. Some of us have a belief – a belief in God,” she said.

A street market was launched in Tacloban City this week selling everything from bananas to brandy. It is another sign that people are getting on with life after a heartbreaking period of immense loss.

It is still raw and it still hurts, but there is a sense that people are taking it in stride.

Many of the goods being sold are suspected loot from stores that were robbed in the days after Yolanda, but some, such as fresh fruit and vegetables, are legitimate produce that have been scarce until now.

There is color, activity and life in the streets of Tacloban once more. A far cry from the scene on Nov. 8.

Rolando Montano was gathering sheets of roofing iron from the debris and loading them on a pedicab yesterday morning.

Montano said he was going to fence off his property before rebuilding his house near the sea in Tanauan.

Montano, a rice farmer and father of 10, said he ideally wanted to sell his property and move further inland because he feared for his safety on the coast, but he didn’t want to flee the area like so many others already have.

He has lived here all his life. His roots are here. “Where I will go?” he asked.

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