Resorts among the mangrove forests and lining the white sand beaches of the relaxed Philippine surfers’ paradise of Siargao had been preparing for a return of tourists after the brutal lockdowns of the pandemic.
Instead, staff have been left picking up the debris of the devastating aftermath of Super Typhoon Rai, after it tore through the country’s central islands at the weekend, leaving nearly 400 people dead and almost a million displaced.
The full force of Rai slammed into the teardrop-shaped Siargao – voted the best island in Asia by Conde Nast Traveler readers this year – toppling powerline poles and palm trees, smashing buildings and sweeping away “Cloud Nine,” a famous wooden boardwalk, popular for viewing sunsets and the surf break.
Videos now emerging on social media caught the terrifying strength of the storm as it made landfall, revealing tourists huddling next to a wall, draped in drenched blue and white beach towels.
“For the past 3 days, we don’t have a place to sleep, food, water, electricity, mobile signal. We couldn’t even take a shower proper. We were really stressed.” — Ronald Roda II, vlogger living in Siargao Island pic.twitter.com/1NVfTi7IbB
— Virma Simonette (@virmasimonette) December 20, 2021
In a nearby sports complex, where dozens of locals had sought shelter, screams rang out from people squeezing into a corner as gusts of 195kmh ripped the roof off, bringing panels smashing to the ground.
"The day after the storm, we went outside and we were like ‘wow, this is Siargao now, it’s no more’," Claudine Mendoza, 27, a sous chef at a beachfront resort, told AFP.
The typhoon, which surpassed all expectations, has been catastrophic for tourism operators, who were just starting to get back on their feet as pandemic restrictions eased, and looking forward to a much-needed cash injection over the Christmas holidays.
"Everyone was so happy, the island was lively again," Ms Mendoza said. "Then suddenly the storm came."
Motorists speeds past fallen coconut trees at the height of Super Typhoon Rai along a highway in Del Carmen town, Siargao island
Credit: ROEL CATOTO
A woman reacts outside a damaged property in Negros Oriental Province
Over 600 tourists have been evacuated from Siargao this week, but hundreds of thousands of locals across the typhoon affected region have been left to sift through the carnage and try to rebuild their lives.
Aid workers warn the death toll may rise as they struggle to carry out rescue operations in remote regions that have been cut off by waterlogged, blocked roads. More than 500 have been injured and dozens remain missing.
Internet and telephone connections in some areas remain down and survivors are reported to be in urgent need of food and water supplies as well as medicines, sanitation and shelter.
Save the Children said at least 4.1 million children have been affected and that it was starting to see the emergence of water-borne diseases, including diarrhea, in cramped evacuation centres.
Super typhoon Odette destroys a shelter in the Philippines pic.twitter.com/0BRN0wCsO2
— . (@anthraxxx781) December 21, 2021
Senator Richard Gordon, the Philippine Red Cross chairman, said the organisation was trying to distribute urgent supplies and he appealed for financial help from the international community.
On Wednesday, Amanda Milling, minister of state for Asia, said she had spoken to the Philippine ambassador and pledged a £750,000 donation.
Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, confirmed the tech giant would also be among those contributing.
Aid groups have warned that normal life may not return to some areas for at least a year, which will bring little comfort to those already reeling from the economic impact of the pandemic.
Uprooted coconut trees and destroyed house are seen next to a sinage in General Luna, Siargao island
Credit: FERDINANDH CABRERA
A wrecked car shows the force of the typhoon's winds
Cecile Remolador, 47, from Tagbilaran City on the island of Bohol, had been relieved to find an online job six months ago after being unemployed for much of the pandemic but will now struggle to repair her home.
Typhoon Rai, known locally as Odette, struck Bohol after racing through Siargao.
“When the typhoon hit our island, it was the scariest time of my life,” she told The Telegraph. “Our house shook for more or less six hours and I believe it would have blown away if it had not been for the concrete house next door that protected us,” she said.
The rain broke through the walls, gushing down the inside of the rooms where they crouched in fear and causing permanent damage. “I need plywood, and power banks,” she said. “Is there anyone who can help us rebuild our home?”