On December 16 and 17, 2021, the Philippine Islands were once again battered by torrential rains and gale-force winds of up to 168 miles per hour with Typhoon Odette (more commonly known as Rai internationally) making its first initial landfall over the surfing island of Siargao and battering down on nine nearby provinces such as Cebu, Bohol, Cagayan de Oro, Negros etc. before making its final landfall over Palawan.
Odette was originally meant to head up further north of Palawan (closer to El Nido) however it changed course which caused major destruction to San Vicente. San Vicente is the emerging destination and home to the longest white sand beach in the Philippines, second in Southeast Asia.
Worst Storm in 25 Years
It has been over 25 years since Palawan has encountered a typhoon like Odette. Normally, typhoons dissipate before they hit the Palawan shores but Typhoon Odette was not having it. She came down on the province and caused over P7.8B pesos worth of destruction (to date), uprooting trees, damaging bridges, cutting down power and internet lines, blacking out the telecommunications infrastructure, lives lost, children missing, and people who have lost their homes and their livelihood.
Typhoon Odette has caused over P40B pesos worth of damages across the Philippine Islands, the 3rd typhoon to cause the most damage since Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) in 2013 and Typhoon Pablo (Bopha) in 2012. Palawan was not prepared for this kind of typhoon; in the time that Binga Beach has been situated on the island of San Vicente, Palawan; the norm that we would experience is usually some heavy rains and flooding but never at the same time.
In the morning of December 17, the sky was covered in dark clouds, and the wind had started picking up early in the morning and rains started coming down around 10:00 AM. By 11:00 AM, we had lost electricity and by 2:00 PM, we lost all communication shutting us out from the entire world.
The rains and winds continued on until about 11:00 PM completely crippling the island. The next day, the residents of Palawan woke up to shocking and devastating news as they surveyed the damage the typhoon had caused. Since we had zero communications, it was quite a feat to get in touch with anybody and see if they were alright.
We were unable to make phone calls, send text messages, withdraw cash, or even try to make the drive to San Vicente since the typhoon had damaged about five main bridges that lead up to El Nido. It was as if we were back in the 1980’s but this time, we didn’t have any news channels or correspondents reporting on the aftermath of the typhoon since the world was a bit more concentrated on the damage that it had brought to Siargao, Cebu and Bohol.
Palawan needs help too…
Over 90% of the fishing boats were destroyed from as near as the Sabang area (close to Puerto Princesa, the main capital and home to UNESCO’s underground river) all the way up to Taytay – a province not too far from Roxas where the typhoon made its final landfall. Roxas recorded about P5.7B in damages, followed by the towns of Dumaran (P1.1 billion), Araceli (P471 million), Taytay (P133.4 million), Cagayancillo (P52 million), San Vicente (P49 million), Kalayaan (P39 million), Aborlan (P4.3 million), Quezon (P2.5 million), Brooke’s Point (P1 million) and Linapacan (P137, 000). Puerto Princesa City sustained P281.3 million in damages.
Port Barton which is located not too far from Roxas was almost completely destroyed, their small home town ravaged by massive big trees, cutting off their drinking water supply and out of all the boats that had been parked in their island cove, roughly only 3 – 5 boats were not destroyed and later used for relief operations. Port Barton is only about 20-30 minutes away from the surfing spot of Alimanguan and about 1 ½ hours away from the quiet cove of Lumambong Beach where you can find Binga Beach.
Luckily, the majority of the resorts in San Vicente follow TIEZA rules and regulations which dictates that properties must be about 20-50 metres away from the shore. If it had been any closer, then I believe the typhoon would have been on the same level as Yolanda (Haiyan) with the storm surges they had in 2013, since Palawan lies on the coasts of the Philippines and Sulu seas.
The aftermath of the typhoon weighed heavily on the Palaweños and the other residents of the nearby islands since we had just opened up to tourism again after almost two long years of the Covid pandemic. Christmas and New Years were right around the corner and everybody was looking forward to what we hoped was the ‘end in sight’. The typhoon had set us back but the Palaweños are resilient and everyone is continuously working to rebuild and move forward.
Due to the telecom blackout, we only had each other to rely on. I had heard stories of everyone physically checking on their friends and family while taking in the destruction. Loved ones leaving notes letting them know where they were and that they were alright. Everyone came together during these times and shared everything they had with one another and despite the sadness the typhoon brought, we discovered what it was to be truly kind.
Since El Nido was well more connected to the goings on of the destruction outside and inside Palawan, they came together and formed a relief group called Odette Palawan Relief. This amazing group coordinated updates, awareness and relief efforts and informed the world that Palawan needed help too.
The damaged bridges halted any kind of help from the main city of Puerto Princesa which meant that the small towns and provinces would not have any access to food, water, fuel, etc. The relief group started with taking small bikes with essentials and reporting back on what was needed, how the people were. It was truly heartbreaking to see so many homes utterly destroyed, people hungry and sad, and mostly distraught not knowing where or how to start.
Palawan is slowly rebuilding and we hope that things will start normalising in February. The bridges are now fixed and relief efforts are constantly being coordinated but we still need help. We need to build new homes and infrastructure for sustainable living because we can no longer say that there are no typhoons in Palawan anymore. We need to build new boats and open our businesses so we can provide for the people of Palawan and so we may be better prepared for what’s to come.
If you would like to help Palawan, please contact Odette Palawan Relief Group, Red Cross, ABS-CBN, Coca -Cola, and their local LGU’s.
Image Sources: PAGASA, Odette Palawan Relief Facebook and Instagram