OPEN DOORS. Families take shelter in a private house in Barangay Binanuahan, Bato town in Catanduanes during the onslaught of Super Typhoon Rolly last Nov. 1. Governor Joseph Cua said families residing in concrete and sturdy houses offer shelter and food to their neighbors whose houses cannot withstand strong winds and heavy rains during typhoons. (Photo courtesy of Salve Traqueña)

LEGAZPI CITY – Catanduanes Gov. Joseph Cua is elated by the culture of generosity and service prevailing in his island province which have literally saved the lives of Catandunganons in times of super typhoons and other deadly disasters.

“For a very long time now, our culture of voluntarily opening doors to our neighbors even before they knock during the onslaught of deadly typhoons have saved thousands of lives already. And I know it will continue as such,” Cua told the Philippine News Agency (PNA) in an interview early this week.

Cua takes pride in being a native of the island province, such that he could identify himself with this culture of helping a neighbor who is in need of shelter and food in times of devastating typhoons.

“This culture of extending a caring hand is our secret why we have very minimal if not zero fatalities or injured despite being constantly battered by strong to very strong typhoons,” he said.

Super Typhoon Rolly whipped Catanduanes with up to 310-kilometer per hour gustiness as it made its first landfall in Bato town last Nov. 1. The howler left at least four people dead on the island.

During tropical cyclones, Cua said, families residing in concrete and sturdy residences offer shelter and food to their neighbors whose houses could not withstand strong typhoons.

“Without this practice, thousands of lives could have been lost already, considering the frequency and the strengths of typhoons pummeling our province every year,” he said.

Even during post-typhoon briefings, Cua is vocal in telling other government agencies that there were more people evacuating or taking refuge in private houses than in evacuation centers.

“This practice of taking shelter in private houses has been going on for quite some time already. Maybe because we have proven it effective in saving the lives of our neighbors,” he noted.

Several Catandunganons echoed the observation of their governor.

One of those who take shelter in their neighbors' sturdier houses is Melanie Rodriguez of Barangay Cabugao, Bato town.

In an interview, Melanie said she and her family evacuate every time there is a typhoon after a harrowing experience in the past.

“Nawalan kami bubong, nagtago kami sa ilalim ng lababo, basang-basa mga bata and the fear how will we survive the typhoon while my kids are crying, ayoko ng maranasan ng mga anak ko yon (We lost our roof, we hid under the sink. We were soaked in rainwater as we feared how we could survive the typhoon while my kids were crying. I don’t want my kids to experience that again)," Rodriguez said.

Ester Molina, who also transfers her family before a typhoon hits their province, said, “nakakatakot na kaya magsawalang-bahala (It is fearsome to be complacent)".

“Ang importante buhay lahat, ang material na bagay madali lang yan mapalitan, maayos pero ang buhay ang pinaka mahalaga,” (What is important is that everyone is alive. Material things could be easily replaced, fixed. But life is the most important)," she added.

Molina said together with her granddaughters, they evacuated to the house of her sister located on higher grounds during the past typhoons that hit Catanduanes.

Salve Traqueña of Barangay Binanuahan, also in Bato town, said she has gotten used to accommodating neighbors and relatives during typhoons. She said she opened her home to three families during "Rolly".

“Our house is open for them, most especially we are in a coastal barangay, we need to help one another,” Traqueña said.

She added that before "Rolly" hit the province, she was able to buy sacks of rice which were consumed by the families that took shelter in her home while waiting for the relief from the government.

Marilou Tito-Estonactoc, who also opened their house for evacuees, said they knew Typhoon Rolly would be very strong, so before it hit their province, her mother prodded their neighbors to take shelter in their house.

"Our house is always open for our friends and relatives in times of typhoon. We want to help by saving lives, by giving shelter in times of need," Estonactoc said.

Cua hopes that this tradition of benevolence and taking care of neighbors during a disaster would continue from this generation to the next. (PNA)