We got hit by Typhoon Frank over the weekend.

Original reports said that the typhoon was to stay off the East coast, only hitting the Visayas, but it turned west and hit the center of the islands.

I had to sigh when the CNNInternational newsreader kept trying to make the Manila correspondent spin the typhoon as unusual, i.e. another global warming disaster, but he correctly didn’t take the hint, and reminded her that these things happen all the time here. And indeed, they do: We average ten typhoons, including one supertyphoon, each year, and Northern Luzon has already had damage from a previous one a couple weeks ago.

This one was especially bad, not because it was stronger than usual, but because it veered from it’s predicted course east of the islands to smash right through the center of the Archipelago, devastating the Visayas where we have family, and hitting Manila and the rice growing areas north west of the city.

One sad result is that a ferry, figuring they would be well west of the hurricane’s path, get hit by heavy winds and waves, went aground and turned over, with maybe 800 people missing, presumed dead. The Coast Guard is there trying to find survivors who may be on rafts and still alive, and searching the local islands for survivors, but hope is dim. Ironically, the boat grounded within a mile of land, and there was time to put on lifejackets and try to get people out of the depth of the ship, but in the chaos, it is suspected most didn’t get out of the ship in time, or perished in the waves.

Sigh. Ferry accidents are, alas, not unusual here: it is an archipelago, and ferries and ships are the common way to travel, although local air flights are an alternative for the more affluent.

But the ferry accident is not the only cause of death. Fishermen were caught in the storm, and died. Then there are floods, the major cause of death. Much of the central islands and the Visayas are flooded. Up here in Luzon, the rivers in Bulacan and Pampanga flooded, leaving many stranded on rooftops or wading to higher ground.

On Saturday afternoon, the eye of the hurricane passed well west of here, over the old Clark Airforce base, which is now a development zone/Industrial park. That is a poor area, with many small farmers with wood or bamboo houses, often in low areas.

Our town only had flooded streets, no major flooding, and our house had no problem. The rain was heavy (I estimate 8 inches, maybe ten) and the winds were 30-40 mph, but except for tree branches, little storm damage. However, the roads outside our higher ground may be flooded. Our help got back late from Manila, so the Northern Luzon Expressway and main roads north through Bulacan are open, but that doesn’t mean all the local roads and bridges are open. Many of the vendors were late or missing from the weekly Palenke this morning, and we will have to check if we can get our 4wd jeep to the farm to check the fields for damage.

The bad news is that the floods are more than the drama on the news, and the floods hit many places. The heavy rain hit at the start of the rice season. We are still preparing our fields, but many fields have been planted already, and some are partly grown, and probably ruined. This means replanting the crop, which is an expense many poor farmers can’t afford. Then there are questions about mudslides in the more hilly areas that have been deforested by illegal cutting. No reports so far, but then the reports are not fully in.

The hurricane was not expected to be a problem, so President Arroyo left for a trip to the United States. If she had left a day later, she would still be here, since they had to close Manila airport for about a day, diverting some flights to Cebu. Arroyo is famous for photo ops and handing out help, but this time she will probably do better hitting the “deep pockets” of the Americans.

The irony is that this will get a lot of play on the news: lots of people have cameras and the press here is free and aggressive. So unlike Burma, where a much larger death rate was kept hidden from the news, there will be plenty of stories about the Philippines in the next few days.

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Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. Her website is Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket

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