Caves sheltered Aetas from furious ‘Yolanda’

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One of the caves at Mount Tag-ao served as temporary shelter for the Aetas whose fragile huts on top of the mountain were destroyed by Super Typhoon Yolanda.

One of the caves at Mount Tag-ao served as temporary shelter for the Aetas whose fragile huts on top of the mountain were destroyed by Super Typhoon Yolanda. PHOTO BY GHIO ONG

DUMARAO, Capiz: Super Typhoon Yolanda showed 37 Aeta families the path to death but it also gave them a chance to escape it.

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The small Aeta community in this mountainous area here felt Yolanda’s (Haiyan) fury late morning of November 8 as they literally crawled their way to the caves for refuge.

“Hindi po namin inasahan na ganito talaga kalakas ang Yolanda,” told Warlito, a resident and volunteer public school teacher of Mount Tag-ao in Barangay Tamulalod told The Manila Times.

Their houses made of nipa and bamboo became veritable kites for the super howler which even uprooted century-old trees and crops, detached and blew substantial parts of their humble abode, leaving them no choice but to creep for shelter in the caves.

One cave here could be reached in 30 minutes with a narrow opening that they had to squat to enter it and avoid being hit by stalactites. Inside was pitch black but big enough for 16 families, including Warlito’s.

“Sugat-sugat at basang-basa po kami pagpasok ng yungib, pati mga pagkain at gamit naming dala,” added Lorna Ganancial, 50, another resident.

At least they were sure of being safe in these caves, which Warlito even jokingly referred as their “evacuation center.”

By evening the following day, they went out of their shelter and saw total destruction all over—their houses, their wild trees and even their crops of peanuts, coffee trees, coconuts, bananas all bent from Yolanda.

From the top of Mount Tag-ao, they could see the trees from other hillsides literally littered like tooth picks where they once stood glorious and majestically green.

Aetas carrying relief goods. PHOTO BY GHIO ONG

Aetas carrying relief goods. PHOTO BY GHIO ONG

“Nakakapanghinayang, lahat ng mga tanim namin nasira na, hindi na mapapakina-bangan pa kapag naani,” said Ganancial.

“Ang layo din ng nilipad ng mga bubong o pader o sahig ng mga bahay namin dito, pati mga gamit. Kung saan saan namin nahanap pagkatapos ng bagyo.” They felt nothing but confusion and shock for what happened all around them.

Looking at the rubbles, they could not figure out how to start rebuilding. “Parang pakiramdam namin, bumalik kami sa pagiging Ati. Walang-wala.”

And so Ganancial asked for construction materials like steel roofs and nails so that they could immediately rebuild their destroyed houses. Also, she asked the government to grant each family a carabao and a plow so they could cultivate their fields again.

She also said that some of the male residents would be paid P100 a day for clearing fallen trees and debris on the roads. This is enough for their daily food needs.

When Zoraida entered the country not long after Yolanda, their sons and other children, still traumatized, were nervously asking if another furious storm is hitting them. They are wary when rain pours or when strong winds blow, Warlito said.

When his sons Warnie and Warren could not stop asking him how strong Zoraida was he explained that it was weaker than Yolanda, to which they replied “baka apo ni Yolanda yan.”

Although most children here had gone back to school already, Yolanda and other potential cyclones are still the favorite topic in classroom.

Perhaps, Warlito said, “Gusto nilang ilabas lahat ng nararamdaman nila sa bagyo.”

Relief aid continues to reach the Aeta community of MtountTag-ao despite the difficulty trek up of more than a kilometer or 40 minutes climbing the trail littered uprooted trees.

When The Times reached the area on December 1, together with the staff of the Department of Tourism of Capiz and a private group, it was the fourth time that relief packages reached them.

Previously, the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples, the Department of Social Welfare from Dumarao, and the Ten Outstanding Students of the Philippines of Region VI gave relief goods to them, consisting of food items and clothing.

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