The scale of destruction is unfathomable. Typhoon Rai obliterated parts of the Philippines when it struck on Thursday December 16. Almost 400 people killed, more than half a million people displaced, no power, internet or electricity for days on end. And on the small island of Siargao, home to world-class reef break Cloud Nine, the typhoon first made landfall and hit from the east, wiping out the vast majority of buildings and homes, leaving that surfing paradise in complete turmoil.
“A few have already died of dehydration. There's diarrahea,” says photographer Gaps Sabuero, a staple in the local surf scene. “There's so much more damage in the north parts of the island especially along the coast. 80 percent of the wooden trimarans we use here for transport are gone. Concrete houses still stand but roofs are out. Shacks are totally blown out. And tarps and roofs are low on supply. People are picking up pieces and building temporary shelters. We can see there's another system brewing and coming soon but it won't be that bad and it won't centre on us.”
Restrictions on Siargao were due to be dropped after the Holiday season, and many local resorts, cafes and bars were getting ready for an influx of visitors. But now, they've all been completely wiped out following the Super Typhoon (known as Odette for those in the Philippines) that saw wind speeds up to 155mph. It's understood to be the strongest typhoon to hit the Philippines since 1984. The iconic Cloud Nine Surfing Tower is also gone. For many across the island, an internet connection was only restored on Sunday – but even today the lack of power, electricity and water are all still major issues.
Gaps is currently on the mainland, running communications in order to get any help over to Siargao. “Hopefully, I'll get back there in the next few days,” he says. “Food won't be a problem, I don't think, because our surf community and friends are sending all they can. it's just a matter of getting it through.
“The big problem is long-term. Small and mid end businesses won't rebuild because, for sure, there will be no business until all this gets cleaned up. High end resorts have insurance. So it will take years and for an island economy that is tourism driven, it's gonna be back to basics. Locals will sell more land for cheap so they can get back up again.”
Andrew Russo, from eco-retreat and cafe Greenhouse on Siargao said: “We need your help. Typhoon 28W Odette/Rai hit hard making a direct landfall on Siargao Island’s east coast around 12pm Thursday, December 16 at Category 5 and with wind speeds over 250kph (155mph).
“It left total devastation in its path and has Siargao and its people in a very fragile state. Currently, in the height of the rainy season, it’s critical to get our people basic necessities and quickly mobilise aid to the area.
“Thankfully the loss of life was very low in the region, but most houses and boats were completely lost or heavily damaged in the storm. Getting shelter for our residents is the top priority. Water and food stocks are low, gasoline for transport is scarce, and diesel fuel is needed for generators to keep water refilling stations and satellite communication up and running.
“Siargao Island’s humble and friendly people have always and will always welcome you back with a big smile, and a big heart. We will build Siargao back strong and look forward to sharing a wave with you soon.”
Andrew sent over links to help with the relief effort:
Lokallab: Raising general funds for the Siargao community and rebuilding effort.
Greenhouse’s effort to rebuild their village.:
We'll add more links as things come in and keep you posted. Thank you to John Callahan of surfEXPLORE for additional reporting.