Resort and bar owners on a Philippine island popular with surfers and tourists were expecting a bumper Christmas holiday after Covid-19 restrictions finally eased. Then Super Typhoon Rai wiped them out.
The strongest storm to hit the archipelago this year cut a swathe through Siargao, a tropical paradise known for its sandy beaches, big waves and relaxed vibe.
The widespread destruction left the island — voted the best in Asia by Conde Nast Traveler readers this year — unrecognisable.
“Even Cloud Nine is no more, it was really devastated,” Mendoza said, referring to the island’s surf break where a wooden boardwalk — a favoured selfie spot for tourists — was swept away by the typhoon.
Pandemic travel restrictions decimated visitor numbers to the island in the past two years, leaving many resorts, cafes, souvenir shops and tour guides struggling to survive.
“Everyone was so happy, the island was lively again,” Mendoza said. “Then suddenly the storm came.”
Some are wondering if it is even worth trying to begin again.
“We think we have the capacity to rebuild but there’s no point in rebuilding if it’s just us — we need the whole of Siargao to rebuild.”
With electricity across the island knocked out, there is no signal or internet, which has hampered efforts of disaster agencies to assess the full extent of the death and destruction caused by the storm.
Farmers and fisherfolk have also seen their livelihoods destroyed, and thousands of families left homeless.
“We didn’t expect it to be this bad,” said Requinta, 36.
It could take months for power to be fully restored to the island, making it difficult for business owners to talk to their partners and investors about the future.
“What will happen now?” asked Mendoza.