Itogon, Philippines -- They huddle among the despairing wreckage left by the violently destructive Typhoon Mangkhut. They must see their loved ones — even if that means they have to bring them back home in coffins.
This is the overwhelming feeling that engulfs Barangay Ucab in Itogon, Benguet as hundreds of families stand at the landslide site, awaiting any news. When a body is found, everyone wonders if it is their brother, sister, aunt, cousin, wife, husband or child. They stand in line as they take turns identifying any body that is retrieved from the rubble. Many bodies that have been dug up are in state of decomposition. Village residents wear masks to mitigate the olfactory assault of the stench of death.
Benguet, a National Geographic-perfect site, is a landlocked province located in the southern tip of the Cordillera Administrative Region in the island of Luzon. Mining and vegetable farming are major economic activities in the highland province known as the “Salad Bowl of the Philippines” due to its huge production of upland vegetables.
The once busy mountain town has turned into a jumble of shattered thatch houses and their former residents. Their farms have been wiped out. Their lives have been disrupted when Typhoon Mangkhut struck the area with wind gusts at 285 kph and hit Cagayan province on Sept. 15, triggering a massive landslide, wreaking havoc and killing more than a hundred people in Luzon.
Weeks before the typhoon, the weather bureau began issuing public warnings that this ruthless super typhoon would bring the same wrath as that of Typhoon Haiyan which left almost 10,000 dead. Mangkhut continued its path of destruction across southern China in the following days.
Rescue and recovery efforts will take weeks, even months according to Chief Inspector Mariano S. Taguiam, head of the special rescue unit force from Manila. His team augments the Cordillera Administrative Region's effort for rescue and recovery. They also provided help during the Typhoon Haiyan in Tacloban in 2013.
Members of Taguiam’s team admitted to giving up after days of trying to rescue the victims. Their only hope is to recover the bodies so that the families can give them proper burials.
Alex Binwag awaits news about his 17-year-old nephew, who worked in the mining area, which was struck by a landslide. Days earlier, the body of his cousin was found. "As days go by, hope disappears," he said.
Cagayan province and the rest of the nearby regions, Regions 1 and 3 and the Cordillera Administrative Region braced and readied their provinces and people before the super typhoon made landfall. Just the same, Mangkhut left a trail of damage across the region.
Cagayan governor Manuel Maamba reported few casualties. As of this writing, power in the most part of Cagayan was still out. He estimated the cost of damage to crops, livestock and fisheries at P4.6 billion. But one can’t give a monetary value to the anguish over the loss of loved ones.
As the clean-up began, the death toll is expected to rise as rescue teams reach rural areas still cut off by flooding.
The Philippines sits in the part of the world most prone to typhoons and earthquakes. These phenomena happen one after another and Filipinos consider themselves veterans of natural and man-made disasters. They are familiar with the drill. They deal with it with the help of international bodies. And then they get up and collect themselves.