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Typhoon Decimates Rice Crop In Philippines


Now to the Philippines and the devastation caused by that powerful typhoon that hit the country last week. The rice farms were hurt especially hard. Estimates say a quarter of a billion dollars of crop damage. NPR's Julie McCarthy traveled to meet farmers who are trying to salvage what they can.


JULIE MCCARTHY, BYLINE: The sun now beats down on La Paz like a balm. And farmhands are busy sweeping husks of rice into neat piles that carpet the side of the road entering the town.


MCCARTHY: Rice fields surround La Paz. Typhoon Ompong covered acre upon acre in water. Farmer Nelson La Puzan points to a watermark staining his T-shirt.

Nelson's pointing to just below his chest. He's saying that's how high the water is on his rice fields. So everything would have been destroyed?

NELSON LA PUZAN: (Through interpreter) Nothing's left.

PETER MIGUEL: For me, this is the worst flood I ever had.

MCCARTHY: That's Peter Miguel. Before we discovered him, we discovered his fields submerged under a lake. I spot a crew scraping rice into 100-pound bags.


MCCARTHY: It's Miguel's crop. He says his men slashed the rice and rammed a harvester into the rising water and saved an acre's worth.

MIGUEL: (Speaking Tagalog).

MCCARTHY: Miguel is not only an indefatigable farmer. When he's not in his fields, he's at his office in the barangay.

UNIDENTIFIED MUNICIPAL WORKER: Analin Bonifacio (ph), Marisa Bonifacio (ph)...

MCCARTHY: A municipal worker takes roll call of his indigent constituents who collect government assistance. Afterwards, recipient Lucena Villamin confides her ordeal. Her four children spent nights in an evacuation center. She and her husband slept outside. Villamin says the rations the army hands out are meager. She doesn't publicly air her complaints...

LUCENA VILLAMIN: (Speaking Tagalog).

MCCARTHY: ...Because, she says, "we feel ashamed and hurt when we ask for things and the government says no." The person elected to serve her is Peter Miguel. He insists that you can't take aid and still complain.

MIGUEL: How come when we are giving rations they're always accepting it? How could that be?

MCCARTHY: There are rations but only for four meals. Sitting in his office, Miguel, age 77, tells his own up-by-the-bootstraps story. He worked at the one-time U.S. Clark Air Base in the Philippines during the height of the Vietnam War, spent 13 years in the United States and was diagnosed with a heart ailment. In 2010, he came home.

MIGUEL: I want to die in my own country.

MCCARTHY: And Miguel invites us to tour the waterlogged streets of his hometown.


MCCARTHY: We stop at an expanse of water and watch a farmer fishing in his fields. A flooded fish farm had overflowed. Miguel says he thought of quitting after the storm but is determined.

MIGUEL: For me, just last night, I will plant again rice (laughter).

MCCARTHY: You just decided...


MCCARTHY: ...I'm still a rice farmer.

MIGUEL: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

MCCARTHY: At the close of the day, we return to his fields, where 24 hours earlier, there was only water. Now green rice plants poke through - survivors of the storm. Peter Miguel says it won't yield much. But in a few weeks' time, he'll sow again - undeterred.

Julie McCarthy, NPR News, La Paz. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.