The village of Dalama in the town of Tubod now looks like a dry riverbed, except for the few houses that managed to cling to their foundations – pieces of wood and concrete lodged in the sand among logs and boulders. Here and there, people sift through the debris hoping to find something of value.
But they are not the owners – the owners are either elsewhere or dead.
Before Tropical Storm Tembin hit the southern Mindanao region of the Philippines on the morning of December 22, officials of the Tubod municipal government warned Dalama’s residents to evacuate. The fear was that the village, located near a river on the slope of a mountain, could be wiped out by a flash flood or landslide.
That is exactly what occurred.
“It all happened so fast,” the surviving villagers tell anyone who would listen.
“Not even five minutes. The entire village was gone before we realised what was happening.”
Of the 104 homes that used to comprise the village’s Purok-2A neighbourhood, only two remain standing after Tembin, or Vinta, as it is known locally. Rescuers have so far retrieved 32 bodies from the rubble, but they could not take names off the list of 13 villagers still missing because the corpses were disfigured beyond recognition.
According to Vicmar Paloma, the local disaster management officer, many of the villagers ignored the evacuation warning because they had weathered past storms.
The people, Paloma said, were “campante” – complacent – because they had heard similar warnings before and nothing had happened.
“So they thought they could just stay. By the time they realised the danger, it was too late,” Paloma told Al Jazeera.
But Marilou Itum, a Dalama resident, believes there was little that could have been done. When she and her husband heard the warning, they first herded their swine into a place they thought was safe. She then went back home to get their eight children and her brother. By then, the flood had engulfed their escape route.