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‘Yolanda’ victims endure life under Otis Bridge

By HANS AMANCIO

Despite signs of danger brought about by disintegration, cracks and decrepitude, the 50-year-old Otis Bridge in Paco, Manila remains a home to a family of “bridge dwellers”.

On June 26, Otis Bridge was closed for reconstruction due to a 10-meter-long crack that caused parts of its concrete deck to collapse.

The Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) scheduled its reconstruction and ordered its closure to secure the safety of motorists and pedestrians.

Along with the safety measure comes the relocation of the three families living under the dilapidated bridge.

For four years, Len Calago, 40, has been living under Otis Bridge with her husband and two children. Turning the bridge underside into their home has not always been the plan, but poverty along with other difficulties in life left them with no choice.

“Wala po talaga kaming matitirahan kaya kahit sira-sira na ‘yung tulay nagtitiyaga pa din kami dito,” she said.

“Gusto man naming umalis pero wala na talaga kaming pupuntahan.”

Len along with her family used to live in a small town in Eastern Samar. In 2013 however, Typhoon Yolanda (Typhoon Haiyan), one of the most powerful typhoons ever recorded, struck Samar island, causing destructive landslides in the mountainous areas. The tragedy rendered over 30,000 families homeless, including Len’s family.

After a few months of having nowhere to go, a friend offered Len’s husband a job as a jeepney driver in Manila. To start a new life, Len and her family went to Manila and took the job offer. But with a salary enough only to feed the family, Len knew that there was no other choice but to live as informal settlers.

“Galing po kaming Samar kasi po na-landslide nung bumagyo sa Tacloban. Pumunta kami dito sa Maynila at ngayon namamasada ng jeep ang asawa ko pero maliit talaga ang sweldo kaya kulang pa din. ‘Di kami makapag-upa. Di naman namin to titiisin kung meron pero wala, kapos talaga,” she said.

With no walls or any partitions, Len’s abode leaves no space for privacy. They have no furniture or any appliance.
A salvaged cabinet and wooden chair serve as their dining table and every area left unoccupied is a space for what’s left of their personal items such as clothes, shoes and bags.

The “bedroom” is made of pieces of plywood nailed and assembled together and raised just a few meters above the ground. When nature calls, a ceramic toilet bowl boarded with pieces of plywood, is just a few steps away and ready to be used, exclusive of water.

Covered by a large piece of tarpaulin, Len’s family gets by under the heat and rain. But when the weather gets harsher and their makeshift roof doesn’t do the job, the concrete bridge serves as their ceiling and protection. But with meter-long cracks and openings that developed on its underside, even the bridge doesn’t serve its purpose.

“Tumutulo na ‘yung tubig sa ibabaw [ng tulay] tapos unti-unti nang nahuhulog ‘yung mga bato,” Len said. “Pero nung nag tag-ulan lumala po kasi mas lumaki na ‘yung mga bato na nalalaglag.”

Len said that as early as Monday, June 25, she and the other bridge-dwelling families already noticed the cracks on the bridge along with medium to large rocks falling from the deck, prompting them to seek the help of barangay officials.

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