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Families displaced after 2020’s strongest storm hits Philippines

Before the storm, Freddie, father of sponsored child Freslyn, secures the roof of the family’s home with a bamboo pole. Most families served by Unbound in the Antipolo program area live in houses made of light materials, which are particularly vulnerable to strong winds and heavy rains. Houses are often constructed with galvanized iron sheets, wood, bamboo, scrap materials, palm leaves and cement.

Updated November 5, 2020

More than a thousand families served by Unbound in the Philippines fled to evacuation centers as powerful Typhoon Goni bore down on the island nation Nov. 1, damaging homes and crops and complicating efforts to prevent illness in the pandemic.

At this writing, there were no reports of deaths or serious injuries among sponsored children, youth or elders in Unbound programs. However, there was one report in Legazpi of a family with two sponsored members whose 5-year-old sister was found dead, and their mother and another sister were missing. All three were swept away in a strong current of floodwaters with a mudflow from the slopes of the Mayon Volcano, a report from the local Unbound team said. The team has been trying to locate the missing mother and sister despite challenges, including restricted movement because of the pandemic and disruption of phone service and other communication.

Unbound teams from four programs across the Philippines were conducting rapid assessments to determine the full impact on families, Tristan John Cabrera, Unbound’s regional reporter in the Philippines, said.

"We [Filipinos] have always been resilient after every calamity," Cabrera said. "But honestly speaking, it is much harder right now that we are facing this strong typhoon while keeping ourselves healthy against the pandemic."

Displaced in a pandemic

Debris is all that's left of Erwin Bonaobra's family home in the Bicol region. Bonaobra is a staff member of Unbound's Antipolo program in Angono.
Debris is all that's left of Erwin Bonaobra's family home in the Bicol region. Bonaobra is a staff member of Unbound's Antipolo program in Angono.

The Bicol region, where Unbound's Legazpi program is located, took the brunt of the storm. At least 900 families served by Unbound in the area left their homes to stay in evacuation centers, Cabrera said. Many of those families live in homes constructed of "light materials" such as wood or bamboo, and those structures are particularly vulnerable to high winds and floods.

An initial assessment in five communities found 20 homes destroyed, 83 partially damaged and five families whose crops were destroyed. Assessments were ongoing in a half dozen other communities, while 17 communities had yet to be reached because of power and communication outages. Roads into one community were blocked by a landslide.

“This will likely complicate our nation’s fight against COVID-19 as hundreds of people will need to evacuate their homes and proceed to the nearest evacuation centers for their safety,” Cabrera said.

Agriculture took a big hit, with reports of damaged crops in the wake of high winds and flooding. At least 84 families in three other Unbound programs — Antipolo, Quezon and Manila — were affected as homes and crops were damaged or destroyed.

The typhoon, known locally as Rolly, was the world's strongest storm this year when it made landfall at Catanduanes island, news outlets reported. It was the equivalent of a category 5 hurricane as it packed sustained winds of more than 130 mph before weakening while moving along the outskirts of the capital, Manila.

The typhoon affected more than 2 million people overall and caused at least 16 deaths after sweeping across the southern part of the main island of Luzon, according to news reports.

"For families facing extreme poverty, the damage from storms like this often hits harder and lasts longer than for communities with more resources. That’s why it’s so important to make sure to provide support before, during and after the immediate crisis has passed.”

— Pritha Hariharan, Unbound international program director for Asia and Africa
A photo captured by Jhana Duque, a staff member in Daet Camarines Norte in the Bicol region, shows some of the downed electrical posts that resulted in a widespread power outage.
A photo captured by Jhana Duque, a staff member in Daet Camarines Norte in the Bicol region, shows some of the downed electrical posts that resulted in a widespread power outage.
 

“Years of hard work and leadership from everyday moms and dads in organizing their neighborhood groups is making response and recovery efforts faster and more effective,” Hariharan added. “It also shows that people experiencing poverty are capable of so much more than they get credit for."

An average of 24 typhoons pass through the Philippines each year, and this was the 18th of 2020. The country was dealing with the effects of an earlier storm, Molave, when Goni hit. Still another storm, Atsani, was maintaining strength in the Pacific Ocean and reported to be headed toward Northern Luzon.

What you can do

  • Make sure your contact information is updated. In times of natural disaster, we notify sponsors personally if we learn that their sponsored friends have been injured or otherwise seriously impacted, so keeping your information updated is important.
  • Pray. The Unbound community holds all those affected and those assisting with relief efforts in our thoughts and prayers.
  • Donate to Disaster Response. Unbound’s Disaster Response fund provides assistance to families in the aftermath of events like earthquakes, severe storms, fires and health emergencies, including the COVID-19 pandemic.

Disaster Response