Former NCCP humanitarian worker shares family’s ordeal during Odette’s onslaught

“How can my mother be quarantined at home when there is no more house left for her to go to?” Joselito “Lito” Sosmena wistfully shared. Lito was the former field coordinator of NCCP-ACT Alliance’s humanitarian response to super typhoon Haiyan in 2013.

Lito’s mother, Geroncia Sosmena, 73, a resident of Brgy. Camayaan, Loboc, Bohol has been diagnosed with COVID-19 virus a day before super typhoon Rai battered the Philippines. She was brought to the hospital for medical treatment after complaining of difficulty breathing, leaving her husband at home with their three grandchildren.

In the middle of rising threat and possible increase of COVID-19 cases posed by Omicron variant, typhoon Rai, locally known as Odette, ravaged through several provinces including Bohol, the hometown of Lito’s family. The super typhoon caused massive devastation across Visayas and Mindanao, leaving 375 casualties as of this writing, and destroying thousands of houses, inundating large tracts of farmlands, flattening infrastructures, and disrupting communication lines.

“When the typhoon struck, my father and my brother’s children braved the strong winds and heavy rain to get to a safer place in our kin’s house,” said Lito. “My brother accompanied my mother to the hospital. When the typhoon struck, my brother’s eldest son had to carry his grandfather, who could barely walk, to evacuate to my relative’s house. They were not able to bring anything,” he added.

Lito’s father, Charlie Sosmena, 75, and family live just beside the Loboc River. “When the river overflowed, they could not help but see our house wiped out in a snap, with all our belongings, including the small sari-sari store (neighborhood sundry store) and blue fishing boat our parents put up for a living,” he shared.

“After being stranded in Tagbilaran City, my brother walked more than 24 kilometers and swam across the flooded areas a day after the typhoon just to get to our village,” Lito stated. “He left our mother in the care of the hospital staff, and went back to check on our father and his children despite the unavailability of vehicles and inaccessibility of some roads due to the aftermath of the typhoon.”

Lito’s brother was relieved when he reached their other sibling’s partially damaged house where his father and children stayed. “The whole town have no electricity yet as the very strong winds toppled electric posts, trees and even destroyed their bridge.”

The next day, they went to check their house in Barangay Camayaan. Lito uttered, “It is heartbreaking to know that my father cried when he saw our home totally ruined, his sari-sari store gone, and all his chicken and pigs dead, after the roof-level flood submerged the area.”

To date, an estimated 3,800 houses were destroyed by the typhoon causing massive displacement of more than two million people in ten regions. Life-saving needs such as food, potable water, hygiene kits, and temporary shelter are immediately needed as resources become scarce in the localities.

“I sadly remember the tragic impact of super typhoon Haiyan in Tacloban where I worked as humanitarian responder – endless lines for water refills, queues in banks and money wire transfers, overpriced gasoline, and scarcity of food,” Lito shared. “Eight years later, it happened again but now with more areas experiencing the same fate due to the slow and inadequate response from the government,” he added.

Worried for his family, Lito exclaimed, “It has been five days already but our people? still lack access to safe water and lifelines such as power and communication lines.” Local news reports in other affected provinces revealed two deaths due to dehydration, while local residents need power or fuel to temporarily use generators for their water pumps.

“It seems like the lessons we learned from typhoon Haiyan have been forgotten. But I hope that in our united efforts and continuing call for accountability from the government, we will recover stronger,” Lito said.

The super typhoons experienced by the Filipinos are concrete effects of the climate crisis. The Philippines is one of the countries that are most prone to the impacts of climate change.

“We found a temporary shelter with our kin for my mother’s quarantine days, but we still have to find out how we will sustain her medicines and their needs for the coming days,” said Lito. “We appeal to all our sisters and brothers, to let Christmas be felt by our disaster-affected neighbors by extending your helping hands to those who need it the most now.”

This story is shared by Joselito Sosmena, as power and communication lines in their hometown are still unstable.

*Photo taken by Roy Regis