Witnessing the strength of Typhoon Mangkhut
As a photographer for UNICEF Philippines, I’m always on standby for possible deployment to cover emergencies across the Philippines. Being a storyteller all my life, I believe that timely on-the-ground coverage is crucial to show the effects of natural and man-made disasters on children and families.
As stronger typhoons become more common in the Philippines — most notably Super Typhoon Haiyan in November 2013 — the country was again wary of another possible catastrophe as Typhoon Mangkhut approached Northern Philippines. Weather analysts warned of the typhoon’s life-threatening might. I was closely monitoring the situation as the storm brewed in the Pacific, and instantly contacted UNICEF to offer to cover the typhoon’s aftermath.
Two days before the typhoon’s landfall, like a soldier heading to war, I prepared myself for another emergency documentary coverage. I armed myself with the trade’s essentials to keep me safe and ready: cameras, food, water, flashlights, radio, medicines, insect repellent and extra batteries. I booked the earliest flight the next day and headed to Ilocos Norte Province in
Northern Philippines where the typhoon was expected to make landfall.
With an eye for the situation of children, I went around the coastal town of Pagudpud to check on how residents were preparing for the typhoon. There, hundreds of families sought shelter in schools that were being used as evacuation centers. Their belongings were in complete disarray — plastic mats, kitchen utensils, and bedsheets strewn on the bare concrete floor of the
classrooms where they were going to spend the night. Children were playing and shrieking in joy, seemingly oblivious of the coming storm.
I talked to Rogeline Malupa, 22, a young mother who is staying in the school with her one-month-old daughter Kristan. “My husband is at home making the necessary preparations to protect our house from the heavy rains and winds,” she said. They’ve experienced many storms in the past, but Mangkhut terrified her.
“The police came to our house this morning and described its strength as comparable to Super Typhoon Haiyan. Immediately we headed straight to the evacuation center. But our house would never survive the winds. It’s just made of wood and light materials,” she said. The family is about to harvest corn from their farm, but the typhoon will destroy their crops. “We will go
back to zero,” she said, clinging her only child.
Typhoon Mangkhut made landfall in the early hours of September 14. I felt its icy gusts at dawn. Electricity was shut off. The view from my high-rise hotel room was chilling. Winds howled and whistled.
The next morning, the mayhem that Typhon Mangkhut unleashed in Northern Luzon came into view. There was massive damage to infrastructure and agriculture. Towns were flooded and buried in landslides. Trees were uprooted and homes were flattened to the ground by high winds of up to 205kph.
From Pagudpud I went East to the town of Aparri in the northern tip of Cagayan province. There, I met Anita Mirafuente. Their house and pig farm were completely damaged. “We lost everything to the storm again,” she said, recalling the previous typhoons that hit Aparri. “Right now, I’m still looking for my lost pigs. I pray that they were not drowned in the flood. We will start
anew with those pigs,” she said in a high-pitched voice, her clothes dripping with mud from searching the vicinity for the animals that make up her livelihood.
I saw only minimal destruction to properties in Aparri. However, in the town of Baggao where the typhoon first made landfall, damage to agriculture was massive. Baggao residents said there were only few rains but the winds were really strong. According the latest government reports, damage to agriculture in the affected areas is estimated at PHP14.3 billion.
I met Jessica Gonzales, 25, and her two-year-old son Vince Karl. “We transferred to our neighbor’s house because it’s much safer there. After the storm, I went out to check our house and it’s gone. But I am thankful we are safe. For now, I give everything to God as we stay temporarily in my husband’s parents’ home,” she said.
My thoughts are with everyone affected by Typhoon Mangkhut. Like in previous strong typhoons that hit the Philippines — Washi in 2012, Bopha in 2012 and Haiyan in 2013 — the spirit of unity lives among Filipinos as we help those who were affected recover from the storm.
Mangkhut was the strongest typhoon so far to hit the Philippines this year. We still have hard lessons to learn after this storm. Weather forecasters say up to five storms are likely to enter the country before the year ends, but I hope Mangkhut would be the last.
By Jeoffrey Maitem, photographer for UNICEF Philippines
Help children and families affected by Typhoon Mangkhut by donating to UNICEF’s emergency response: https://donate.unicef.ph/campaign/212/typhoon-ompong