Brian Salter's Blogs:
Coron: A Phoenix Rising

 

It was not a journey I was looking forward to. It was some ten days after the super-typhoon Yolande (Haiyan) had hit Busuanga Island in the Philippines’ Calamian group, where my house in Coron is currently being built. I had been out of the country when Yolande struck. The eye of the storm had passed directly overhead and bulletins on all the main TV channels were not very cheery, to put it mildly. Yolande had been classed as an “Extremely Catastrophic Super Typhoon” and was dubbed the most powerful Super Typhoon ever recorded.

The airstrip on Busuanga had been knocked out by the storm, but within days the runway had been cleared and communications were up and running with the result that day time flights were now possible once again.

The old terminal building was all but demolished; but the newer terminal that is the only one used anyway these days (it had been built with funds donated by the Koreans) was still standing, albeit that most of the glass had been broken inside and out, with the result that only a row of chairs separated incoming from outgoing passengers.

Outside the terminal, whereas there once had been a welcome sign from the local mayor, “Fems” Reyes…

Ms Reyes’ happy row of smiling molars was no more…

… which is perhaps a pity since by all accounts she has done a sterling job of leading the reconstruction and acting like you would want your local mayor to act – a one helluva lot better job than other mayors in other disaster struck provinces across the Phils have done, by all accounts.

There are countless postings on the internet about some really appalling stories doing the rounds – such as relief sent from Indonesia being repackaged with the logo of a Philippines relief agency on the covering before being handed out to the unfortunate recipients a day later than needed. Whether there is any truth in this story or not, it is symptomatic of the bad feeling and the mistrust that has built up between the haves and the have-nots.

Ms Reyes, on the other hand, is visible by what she is doing, and not just relying on slogans. She immediately set up a lost-and-found office for people to find their loved ones and identify the dead; she organised water and food distribution, and her Facebook site is well worth a look at what else she has been doing.

It is said that 90 per cent of all buildings in Coron had been badly affected by the storm, and I almost feel guilty that my concrete construction only lost one window. Along the waterfront it is still a total mess…

…while inland entire homes have been demolished.

But the residents of Coron are nothing if not survivors, and everyone has been quick to lend a hand – first to clear the roads for relief to be able to get through, and then for everyone to help everyone else rebuild shattered homes.

Each of the local barangays, or local councils, are organising the smaller scale clearup, following on from the teams that have cleared a way through the fallen tree trunks.

If this had been on a black-and-white TV newsreel on the BBC in the 1950s you would almost have expected a clipped upper-class British accent to be describing the residents of Coron as “plucky” – a word you rarely hear used nowadays, but somehow it seems to sum up the local attitude precisely.

And what a difference a fortnight makes. Here’s a view of the town from the top of Mount Tapyas before the storm…

and the same view after… (hey, that’s my house down there!)

The old Hollywood style CORON sign which dominated the west of the town before…

… is still there, but the waterfront properties are again badly battered.

And the old signature Coron cross which used to dominate the town from the top of Mount Tapyas …

… is now a pile of twisted metal, though our Mayor has vowed it will be restored in the near future. Such landmarks may not add to the functioning of the town, but psychologically its presence is highly significant.

Some of the after effects are not all bad, however. This was my view of Coron from the house a month ago…

…whereas now I can see down to the waterfront, and no doubt when everything has been cleared it will be a far better view from my bedroom window.

One of the largest diving centres in Coron, the Sea Dive Resort, looked OK on the outside before (though having stayed there three nights I was not a fan of its “service”)…

But now the outside is more fitting to the state of the accommodation you would have been offered before. Note that only one telecoms mast – the sturdy Globe mast – is still standing in front of Mt Tapyas. Smart Telecoms’ weedy structure has disappeared.

But wait - what is this? A small standby mast for Smart Telecom has also just been installed. Not bad going a mere two weeks after the devastation.

Down in the market place the street signs are neatly laid out waiting to be reinstated.

…while many properties that weren’t demolished are waiting for new supplies of glass to arrive from Luzon.

But glass can wait. Essential supplies are being shipped in and there are food kitchens, sheltered accommodation and aid getting to those most in need.

Meanwhile the electricity grid is being reinstated with teams having been flown in to erect new masts, such as this one in front of my house…

…up she goes…

… and there she sits waiting for the next team to come along and fill the hole with concrete…

…before yet another team climbs up and starts stringing up new cats’ cradles in the sky.

Meanwhile one of the local fire brigade wagons is dolling out water round the town. They fill their truck from one of the local rivers and fill up people’s plastic drums every second or third day. It’s not fit for drinking, but you very soon work up a sweat in this place with daytime temperatures hovering around 34 degrees.

Things are fast returning to normal here. The “supermarket” has goods to sell…

There’s fresh meat too, though prices for almost all food had risen by around 50 per cent; but prices are coming down again now that supplies are getting through from Luzon. These two piggies went to market (but are unlikely to have returned home again).

Fish stocks are returning to normal…

There’s even petrol available for your motorbike or trike.

...which means that the taxi service is practically back to normal...

Thanks to a generator working overtime, you can bop the night away (well, the evening anyway!) in the Hard Rock disco bar…

while for the more devout, only one of the half-dozen or so churches was totally demolished and the remainder are doing a brusque trade. At this one it is standing room only …

Why, even the local launderette is back to business as usual!

In summary, when the world is learning from the world’s media how unprepared the Philippines has been for predictable disasters, and with relief efforts turning into tragic farce in some other areas of the country, it is indeed refreshing to see what a fantastic example Coron has been setting for others to wonder at.

Good old Coron. Good old “plucky” Coron!