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Filipinos Return Home After Typhoon Hagupit But Fear Future Storms

Typhoon Hagupit has caused dangerous flooding and led to at least two deaths.

LEGAZPI, Philippines — Early Sunday morning, as the rain and wind continued to batter Legazpi City, authorities in the regional capital of Albay province — just north of where Typhoon Hagupit had made landfall Saturday — announced that the eye of the storm had passed through and was moving on toward Manila. Almost immediately, the first wave of families, who had fled their houses for the protection of schools, churches and other evacuation centers, packed up and carried their meager belongings home.

But home for the Bayonitoses is "the danger zone" — a 50-foot strip of shoreline closest to the sea and most exposed to storm surges. Last year, after the devastation caused by Super Typhoon Haiyan, a new law made these zones off-limits to any inhabitants. But the government turns a blind eye.

"We have no place else to go," said Neomida Bayonitos, who lives with her husband, Raymundo, in a plywood shack they share with three grandchildren and a fighting rooster. "This is our home."

Even as the wind howled through the bowels of the shantytown and the rain fell in sheets, Neomida Bayonitos felt relieved. "I was very afraid of the big waves, like the ones in Tacloban last year, but I'm not so worried now," she said, knowing that Hagupit — also called Ruby — was moving on.

But what would she do if another monster storm approached? "We’ve learned our lesson from Tacloban," she said, where thousands died or went missing after Haiyan's 20-foot storm surge engulfed the city. "Now we listen when the barangay (local) leaders tell us to evacuate."

"The storms are definitely getting worse", added Raymundo. "We've been here for almost 40 years. Before, there were big storms, too. But now, they are so big they wash away the houses."

Not this time. Typhoon Ruby turned out to be much weaker than expected when it hit Samar province, just to the south of Tacloban. There were no deadly storm surges, as so many had feared. Damage was minimal. Legazpi had dodged a bullet.

Still, some said they’re worried about all the rain — up to 2 feet — that has fallen in the region since Saturday. "I'm afraid of mudslides and lahar," or volcanic mudflow, Norma Babalusa said as she placed a half-dozen small, salty fish in a plastic bag behind her food stall, nearby.

"If it rains any more, there'll be lahar slides from Mayon," she warned, referring to the active volcano near Legazpi's city limits and the mix of rain and volcanic dust that turns as thick as mud.

Babalusa, a mother of two, whose husband is too sick to work, spoke as she worked by candlelight. The electricity had been cut throughout Legazpi to protect against the danger of wet power cables. When asked why she came to work even though the driving wind and rain would surely keep customers away, she laughed nervously. "If I don't work, I don't sell. If I don't sell, I can't feed the family."

She wasn't alone. Under a tin and tarpaulin covering, dozens of other evacuee families had ventured back to their modest stalls, laying out their wares, mostly fish. Along this unlikely main street, a group of small boys ran by, laughing as they splashed through the puddles in their flip-flops. Babalusa smiled. "This is normal weather for us," she said. "It's nothing exceptional."