Philippines Struggles to Rebound From Typhoon

Businesses in the Philippines look to rebuild after extreme flooding.

Residents riding on wooden boats pass by a flooded market in the town of Santa Cruz in the Philippines.

With damages and losses estimated at $240 million, typhoon Ketsana continues to wreak havoc on businesses in the Philippines three weeks after it dumped a month’s worth of rainfall in eight hours on the capital, Manila, and the surrounding areas, causing extreme flooding.

This story first appeared in the October 19, 2009 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

While the poshest areas, like the central business district of Makati City, bounced back immediately once the waters had subsided, other areas were not so lucky. Among the hardest-hit areas were the municipalities of Marikina, Caloocan, Pasig, Navotas and Cainta, where floodwaters reached almost to the rooftops of houses, as well as areas in Quezon City, Taguig and Laguna.

Several clothing warehouses and garment factories are located in these disaster areas. Marikina, in particular, is known for its footwear factories. As floodwaters rose, a quick-thinking security guard at the Marikina Shoe Museum, where 200 pairs of Imelda Marcos’ shoes are on display, tried to save as many pairs as he could by taking them up to the second floor.

Hong Kong-based handbag designer Marilu Batchelor, whose LuluB signature snakeskin clutches and totes are crafted in Marikina, said, “Factories in this area were completely wiped out, and it will take some time before they get back to business, if ever.”

The government has promised to help small business owners rebuild, but so far no subsidies have been extended.

Bea Valdes, whose namesake bejeweled bags and neckpieces are sold in Barneys New York and worn by the likes of Kate Moss and Rachel Roy, said, “I was actually at the workshop the day of the biggest rainfall and it was shocking to see the amount of rain.”

Fortunately, her workshop is in a well-constructed building complex and quite secure, she said. However, she added, “Some of our staff was directly affected, and flooding did reach their houses. Some of them had to temporarily relocate to evacuation centers, but as of today, everyone is back in their homes.”

Hundreds of thousands were stranded on the roofs of their homes or ferried to evacuation centers on Jet Skis, rubber rafts and surfboards. There has been an outpouring of donations in cash and kind, as well as efficiently coordinated relief efforts from private citizens and businesses.

The local fashion and music industries organized a fund-raising event, which saw the country’s top designers and musical acts in a joint concert-fashion show on Oct. 7. The beneficiary was the Life Afloat project, which aims to buy rubber boats, floaters and life jackets in order to facilitate future rescue missions. Black Eyed Peas’ Alan Pineda Lindo flew into his native Philippines for a special impromptu concert last Thursday night, joined by local artists. He brought with him cash donations and canned goods.

The retail sector seems to have been spared major damage, and the malls are humming one again with activity.

Louis Vuitton, situated at the luxury Greenbelt 4 mall in Makati City, escaped relatively unscathed, said communications coordinator Pamela Picazo, though several employees experienced difficulties commuting to and from work due to the floods.

The Big & Small Co., a local upmarket children’s, tweens and maternity clothing group with lines that include Big & Small, Orange Juice, Spin and H.A.B., has stores sprinkled all over the metropolis. Owner and president Joanna Ongpin Duarte was in Lisbon when the typhoon struck, but learned the office and warehouse were seriously affected.

“We are thankfully insured for our office and warehouse, so that makes things slightly better, but the task to rebuild is grueling and gruesome,” Duarte said. “All our stores, save for one, were unaffected, but we expect sales to slow down due to the mood and the needs of our countrymen. We expect people to be spending their money on rebuilding their homes and replacing their cars, etc.”