By Nikita Espangel
Two weeks have passed since Bopha grazed Palau. Although most of Palau was untouched, salve 5 states were severely affected: Ngaraard, Ngiwal, Melekeok, Peleliu, and Angaur. In addition to the environmental damage inflicted, many homes were destroyed, and people displaced. According to the Bopha Relief Committee assessments, approximately 191 homes were affected with 46 completely destroyed.
The Committee has decided to build 5 houses in each of the states of Ngiwal, Melekeok, Peleliu, and Angaur. According to the Committee, out of the 46 homes completely destroyed by Bopha, 28 are located in Ngaraard, the northern most state in Babeldaob. As a result, 10 homes will be rebuilt in the state. 5 of those homes will be in the village of Ngkeklau, while the other 5 come from the villages of Choll and Ulimang.
The Committee used the state governors to collect information and assess which 5 homes would be eligible for reconstruction. For a home to be completely funded and rebuilt, certain criteria had to be met as set out by the Committee. The home must have served as a primary home to the owner. In other words, if a home was destroyed, but the owner had another home elsewhere, their home was not eligible for reconstruction. Also, the home must’ve been completely destroyed. If part of a home was left standing, it would not qualify.
Despite a lot of work ahead, the initial five were glad they would at least have a home. The other severely damaged homes will have to wait as they were told their homes would be addressed after construction of the initial five. The residents question what kind of assistance they would be getting if any with only $5 million granted by the government for the its entire Typhoon Relief operation. On their thoughts about government aid, those who were not of the chosen 5, expressed that with help or not, they will still build a new home. If the government helped in the form of loans or some financial aid, it could be done quickly, as some residents have others who can help in their homes’ construction. Without help, however, most say it’ll take quite a long time before they get to sleep in what they could call a home.
Most residents are still taking up shelter in the village Bai, the traditional men’s meeting house in Palauan culture. However, some have opted to stay with relatives in Koror or other states where sleeping arrangements were better, not as cramped and with more privacy.
Residents of the chosen 5 were busy clearing the future construction sites. According to Patrick Tellei, the Bopha Relief Committee chair, the goal is to have these homes built within 30 days. Many called in their relatives from other states to cut down trees nearby. Residents of the other homes were still busy picking up their belongings in the surrounding areas, and clearing debris and foreign objects in their homes.
The sound of fire crackling could be heard everywhere as everyone gathered dead foliage around their homes to burn. Asked why, residents commented that it was in an effort to clean the village. The storm knocked down most trees, not because of strong winds, but because of the flooding that came with the storm surge. Also, over the past two weeks, the vegetation left has now started to die. With the storm surge, seawater drowned the village leaving soil unable to grow anything with such high salinity levels. Visitors to the village who had visited prior to Bopha commented on the change in the color of the environment. A village that was once green is now brown with wilted leaves and dead vegetation.
When asked how long it would take for the village to look as it once did, many commented years of which during many would have to find other ways to make a living. Most of the residents relied on their taro patches and farms for subsistence. Depending on the weather, it will take a while for the rain to desalinate the soil enough to grow new crops. After that, it will take up to several years to harvest such crops. Residents say there is nothing they can do but wait for the weather cycle to cleanse the soil. Some had property on higher ground shielding them from the effects of seawater. The rest must now purchase their food or rely on the goodwill of relatives living elsewhere to help provide food security.
Although power, telephone, and water services have been restored, the road connecting the village is still in disrepair from the force of the storm surge. In the trail of Bopha, Ngkeklau remains unrecognizable to its residents, with a lot of help needed on its road to recovery.
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