I have been working to keep this website operating, (sgshopper.me) but for those who did not know what happened just before the end of December 2021, this explains the biggest and worst Typhoon I have ever experienced. You’re welcomed to join me in the story.
Passage Through A Super Typhoon
The weather predictions were surprising and ominous. Generally, typhoons turn north before reaching Cebu Island, and then they sail on toward Japan or more commonly to China, but this time it would be different. We occasionally get a touch from an edge of a typhoon and some wind but on my little hill-sheltered area, we generally feel nothing but a pleasant breeze and see cloudy skies.
In my community, about half-way between the southern edge of Cebu city and the southern tip of the island, life is moderately stable and calm. Turning south out of the parking lot of a big grocery store we walk or ride behind big heavily laden trucks as they rumble and struggle up a long hill past homes, farms and very old graves.
About a half mile from the top of that hill sits my apartment complex. It appears the doctor who bought this property after World War II, had advice from a civil engineer and he got land that is well sheltered and also drains flooding rain away very quickly. Looking across the highway are farm fields in some places but mostly wooded areas, squatter’s homes, another cemetery, and a rising landscape to the spine of mountains that runs the length of the island. These mountains always provide more puffy white clouds, that bask in the glint of tropical sun rays. But, with no news or weather reports coming to us, and no electricity to recharge phones, there would be no telling if distant clouds were just the daily blow-over type or the portent of another typhoon.
Turning left at the landlord’s wide driveway past painted and skillfully crafted wrought-iron fencing, guarding lovely decorative gardens visited by singing little birds, the car rides up a steep incline some 10 feet above the street level. Continuing along the flat parking lot between buildings one comes to an imposing earth retaining rock wall, a huge wedge of stone and concrete working as an earth support to prevent the hill from crumbling and falling upon the apartments below. Beside the imposing rock wedge is the landlady’s carport. More steep walking takes us to a stairway and walking up another 20 feet the stairway opens upon the landlady’s gardens, and up yet another 10-feet, more concrete stair steps reach the doctor’s home, and expansive covered patios and surrounding land.
For too many painful years, the national highway passing up the hill was no more than a 2-lane highway with slim shoulders. Motorcyclists did and still do get “a fixer” to give them a license for an underhanded fee. None of them apparently can read and comprehend, thus none could pass a driving test. No license is required to buy a motorcycle, so they make a down-payment and a promise and away they ride.
The consequence of this arrangement is that every young man makes up the law and driving mannerisms for himself. If he’s an emotional driver, instead of a logical driver, he guns the throttle in the middle of crowds of people crossing the street and cars in dense traffic as if he decided then and there to commit suicide, and take a few innocents with him.
These young men who imagine themselves to be jet fighter pilots eventually end up with damaged motorcycles and damaged bodies. The police do nothing to enforce speed limits and proper driving rules. There are many crashes and many ambulance rides.
Before the storm arrived there was some improvement ongoing as the highway department was working to widen the road to 4-lanes with shoulders, and replace rain (and garbage) run-off gutters with buried water conduits. Everything along that highway was raised earth, rocks, and mud and digging around trees. One of those trees was a beloved old fellow who was a home to birds, but was rotted and needed attention or removal.
Super Typhoon Odette/Rai
The storm tracks indicated about 20-hours of storm passage. This was going to be an interesting experience.
Everyone would feel the lash of this storm, but almost never, not in the memory of locals for over 100-years, had such a powerful beast stormed across Cebu Island.
Most of the smaller sidewalk shops were constructed of soft wood lumber framing nailed together by self-styled carpenters, most of whom have no formal training. These sidewalk huts are covered with rusted and recycled corrugated steel. There are a few concrete structures with steel roofing, certainly most of it had never enjoyed the privilege of an architect’s hands. The young men who built these things were the same that drove motorcycles like lunatics. They off-the-cuff slam things together and Western men familiar with building and craftsman’s unions and guilds look and wondered at how anyone could pack so many mistakes into one building and then tell themselves they were being frugal and efficient.
Many of these types of buildings end up with leaking roofs, leaking floors, bad smelling waterlogged earth around them, and wide swaths of lichen, and moss, stinking with the activity of microbes breeding in the biomass left by whatever plumbing was ill prepared and unplanned — which explains this path of human mismanaged ingenuity.
At approximately 3 PM my landlady met me on the sidewalk beside my apartment. We felt the breeze rising steadily in strength. “It’s starting now Steve,” she told me. Nothing new to me. I was raised on Long Island, New York where “heavy weather” is a common experience of our lives and small boat sailors learn to be men, or tough women, facing down danger.
What was new for most of us, was coming. The sky darkened to night by 5 PM and not long afterward that tree that needed attention came down tearing away the electrical and phone company wires including the Internet connections.
Our little apartment complex of perhaps 50 souls, was plunged into darkness and our communications with the world were instantly severed. Most of us had perhaps a rechargeable flashlight, a light to wear down the battery from our cell phones, and candles for worship or emergency lighting.
As the wind rose to gusts of 185 miles per hour the coconut palm trees our landlady and her strong young workers had so carefully cultivated snapped off at approximately the same height, dropping their fertile, heavy laden treetops to earth, crushing the carport below. The lady’s car was wisely parked out on the parking lot. It fared much better.
The weakly constructed car port was instantly crushed with a huge bang as everything landed on the ground beside our apartment. We couldn’t see, but heard it through our door and roof. My housemate “Rhea” was visibly frightened.
The sounds I heard brought to mind an imagined terrible clawed beast methodically tearing our roof apart. Water was gushing in and Rhea, was gathering it into a long-handled dustpan and dumping it into the “comfort room” (a tiled bathroom and shower combination) to run down the drain. Water depth rose to about a half inch and finally we got ahead of it with a combined effort.
I was for the most part relaxed and confident, but Rhea looked frightened. She wondered if we would have any overhead shelter before this ended, and as it turned out she had good reason to be fearful.
The next morning, I could lean my head against a wall and look up, past where the ceiling almost met the wall, and see the sky.
It must have been about 9 PM when the wind died and we knew the eye of the storm was right over us. The air pressure dropped, and the roaring, whistling, shrieking wind gave way to temporary peace.
We went out looking for a few minutes, returning with little time left to do so. The wind from the other side of the eye reached our door as we closed it. The air speed was suddenly rising with intensity and within a minute or two, seemed to be full speed again. I calculated from the predicted storm track speed that the storm eye might have been 5.5 miles across. But no matter, everyone from at least 10-miles north of Cebu to the southern tip of the island was being tested. Only the fish had sense enough to dive deeper and have calm comfort beneath the waves.
The wire running under a window frame to my Internet connecting modem was torn away and hanging by the window curtain. The old tree had come down taking all those wires with him in his last gasp. Steel poles were bent from vertical to angles.
We are a community of about 110,000 people and the electric company said they had 3-men for all the repair work. In the US, companies can call other companies and arrange to move idle men to their area and pay them to restore order, but here apparently there are no such arrangements, and probably nearly three-fourths of the population had similar needs. We all of us were in trouble. I was dreaming of all of these wires housed in a tunnel 6 feet tall and 4 feet wide the length of the entire highway. Dream on…. To get electricity with dispatch, many paid local licensed electricians. The problem is, we remain equally vulnerable to the next typhoon.
Prices for food and fuel immediately launched toward the stratosphere. With no refrigeration we were forced to spend more for canned meat and whatever vegetables we could find. I was never a big rice eater but as I got thinner and wheat became less available, I forced myself to eat a bit more rice to provide the caloric intake I needed.
Many in the community were reported to suffer with temporary depression, and didn’t communicate much. They both loved their animals and sent them eventually to the butcher, but now it was worse. The animals were dead. The farm crops were ruined. We were eating what could be shipped in from Mindanao. It would be 2-months before our local farms could sell anything they grew again. Prices were rising as shipping, fuel and food expenses all rose feeding one another with continually rising prices.
In America I would be less than comfortable. Here I am middle- middle class and managing decently while continuing to build a small website and shopper’s magazine. Even for me, the cost of living had gone up at least 25% and I was feeling the pinch.
Moving money at the end of the month proved to be a serious worry until a neighbor with Internet connections offered to allow me to bring my computer to her house and reach my bank. It was a bit of an uncomfortable activity carrying all of that equipment across the istill-under-construction highway with crazy drivers whizzing past. They seem to have mistaken their brake pedal for their horn pad. They don’t slow down. They ply on as if through driving snow while pressing that horn button.
My housemate and I walked across the highway and up-hill a little way. Our kind new friend by day has light pouring in from all angles through handsome custom made wood window frames. The entire house is beautiful old wood. But the light there, made it nearly impossible to see the computer monitor while kneeling on the floor beside her coffee table. Nevertheless, the lady rescued us allowing me to reach my bank and move money, and we’re forever grateful.
There are still challenges. Today marks the passing of 65-days since the storm’s eye passed overhead. Farms are beginning to offer more but not yet with the volume or quality they had before the storm. The big grocery store has done some serious work to keep food moving to help our community and they’re bringing in chicken meat for sale from somewhere to keep us fed. Local neighbors are producing fresh eggs again.
The Philippine Long Distance Telephone (PLDT) company has had a difficult time restoring phone lines. We’re not surprised. The combined phone and electricity lines look like they were designed by a spider high on LSD.
Walking along the street down the hill to the main town center traffic circle, one could observe small shops being repaired. Sidewalk huts that had exploded into splinters were being rebuilt. Many shops were having roofing and signs replaced with anything they could recycle and then new materials where necessary. They were all taking an unexpected expense and weren’t happy about it. There were many electricity and phone wires hanging.
One lesson for me from this is that these days, one must own a laptop computer with a connection to a 5-G network. We have a new company here called DITO and I plan to buy a replacement laptop and pay for Dito’s services.
As for Philippine Long Distance Telephone, they made promises they can’t keep, they stopped sending messages giving any information, and they generally treat customers as if they are completely overwhelmed with requests for help. They seem to have barely any idea how they’ll solve their many problems. It’s going to be a LONG slog for them. Many customers are switching to their competition.
My biggest concern is that if we have begun a new span of time when more terrible weather takes down lines (which should be buried) I am reasonably certain I’ll be unable to work, and this society will be further weakened as it pays to rebuild yet again. If we had 4 of these events in an 18-month span it might financially collapse the society.
I intend to continue writing advertising and articles for my website and cannot do that when there is no internet connection – and apparently the service reporters at PLDT are so overwhelmed with complaints and reports, they don’t know or care about any individual’s needs.
Two workmen were here. They fixed the landlady’s connection (just 12-steps from my door) and her brother’s connection on the hill and never visited us. They said they didn’t have a work ticket number. We had it from their messaging service. They could have asked us. Their management appears to be overworked, missing details, and confused.
Fuel had been in such short supply there were lines to buy gasoline. Stove LPG fuel was running out, food was running out, store shelves were going empty, no one was smiling.
Between these weather-related problems, the outright lies and misunderstandings, and disorganized management of the Covid-19 crisis, the young students are not getting the schooling they need. Their do-it-at-home modules for pre-teen-age children are nearly worthless.
One very smart 17-year-old man from Greece told me he dropped out of school. He’ll educate himself. He complained they have too many festivals and holidays and not enough real learning. Disgusted and bored he left their schooling system. There’s a serious opportunity screaming for teachers to tutor on the phone from home.
From the looks of so many groups of three girls out evenings on the prowl I’m wondering if by next year there will be a more serious issue about masses of unwed young mothers. I am afraid, this is not going to be a story with a happy ending.
Our community is beginning to restore its services. The lights are being restored. The Christmas we missed might have another chance next December. But I’m sorry to admit, as a student of theology and Biblical prophecy, I’m a bit pessimistic about this continuing year.
I’ll have to reserve my other thoughts about theology, sociology, geopolitics and economics for a larger discussion. It’s all part of a sad mixture in a world that is, by a force more powerful than most understand, being led into yet many greater difficulties. It’s going to be an “interesting” decade.
Dr. Stephen Newdell: February 8, 2022
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