Villagers picking up the pieces amid chaos

Villagers picking up the pieces amid chaos

It is the dead of night and Mr Belmer Democrato first hears the distant rumble of thunder. The 35-year-old snaps out of slumber at once.

"I grab an umbrella, hold it over my bed and go back to sleep," he said.

Like many others in his barangay (Tagalog for "village") in the pro-vince of Aklan - one of 44 provinces wrecked by Super Typhoon Hai-yan two weeks ago - Mr Democrato has lost the roof of his house.

One of seven village councillors in his barangay of Linabuan Sur, he lost two-thirds of his home after it was pounded by the wind and rain.

His home, built mostly of bamboo and thatched nipah fronds, is typical of rural Filipino houses. It used to house all 10 members of the Democrato family, but now only the tiny kitchen remains - propped up by a palm tree - and there is enough space only for Mr Democrato and his aged parents.

The other seven family members - his siblings and their families - have sought shelter with relatives.

"It rains every day and it's very difficult to live like this," he said.

The damage in Linabuan Sur might seem moderate compared to the epicentre of Tacloban 400km away, but the figures are still startling.

In Aklan, 13 people were officially recorded dead and 476 injured as of Nov 19. The province suffered more than 2 billion pesos' (S$57million) worth of damage to "agriculture, infrastructure, lifelines and public utilities".

Only about a fifth of the 768 homes in Linabuan Sur escaped damage.

With building materials scarce, the situation in provinces away from Tacloban is getting desperate.

Mr Democrato told The Sunday Times that prices of some building materials have doubled and there have been incidents where metal roofing sheets were stolen off homes and buildings.

"It's going to take three to six months for us to recover," he said. "People here are poor, they're fishermen and farmers, and don't have the money to rebuild."

Relief supplies and aid have poured into the Philippines since Haiyan struck, but Mr Democrato said there has been only one distribution of aid in his village by the government so far.

"The army came last Monday and gave out 2kg bags of rice to families, but it was very disorganised," he said. "They stopped along the road and gave out food for only about 30 minutes, but no one told the people beforehand, and there was not enough time for everyone to gather."

The chaos mirrors the varied destruction all around.

The storm was indiscriminate, destroying some homes here, while leaving other villages almost untouched. Even houses built of brick and concrete have had their roofs blown off.

Along the roads, power lines and uprooted trees lie in a tangled mess.

In the town of Kalibo, home to the international airport that receives tourists headed for the resort island of Boracay, there is still an eerie darkness at night.

Power has remained cut and businesses have been affected.

Mr Michael Abello, 40, who runs the 11-room Suburbia Garden Hotel, said he has been told by local government officials that it could take up to two months for power to come back on in the town.

"January is the peak tourist period," he said. "If the blackout lasts until then, there will be problems."

It is quite a different situation on Boracay, where it was business as usual barely a week after the typhoon, with revellers partying late into the night. Power in most places on the resort island was restored about three days after the storm.

Mr Abello said government relief efforts in Aklan have mostly centred on Boracay.

"The government priority is that the airport is open and the road to Boracay is clear," he said. "It's important because a lot of people depend on tourism for a living."

- The writers and photographer are final-year journalism students at Nanyang Technological University's Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information. They arrived in Aklan a week after the typhoon to work on their final-year project on Filipino migrant workers.

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