PHOTOS: Marawi's ruins a reminder of Islamic State's devastating reach

A soldier walks on the rooftop of the war-torn Grand Mosque in Marawi City, Lanao del Sur province, Philippines. (Photo: Eloisa Lopez/Reuters)

MARAWI CITY, Philippines — It had only been a week since Mohammad Ali Acampong finished renovating his house when bombs and bullets struck Marawi City.

Two years ago, pro-Islamic State militants took over in a bid to carve out their own “Wilayah,” or province, forcing nearly 100,000 people to flee in what became the Philippine military’s toughest and longest conflict since World War II.

Acampong, a local government official, and his family of eight, left his three-story lakeside house.

“When the chaos began, our life suddenly became really difficult,” Acampong, 42, told Reuters.

“We had a comfortable life before. Now we live in between shelters, enduring heat, the lack of water, the lack of everything.”

Marawi was once one of the most picturesque cities in the Philippines.

A picture shows the Acampong family after evacuating from Marawi City in 2017, Lanao del Sur province, Philippines. (Photo: Eloisa Lopez/Reuters)

About half of it is now charred concrete and skeletons of buildings, the effects of 154 days of airstrikes and artillery fire by the military, and booby traps the rebels laid everywhere to keep people at bay.

The Acampongs now live in a tiny temporary housing unit on the city’s outskirts, competing with thousands of families for water and other basic utilities.

At least 500 other families live in plastic tents, like Asnia Sandiman, 25, who produces made-to-order clothing with a government-issued sewing machine.

“The tent is fine until it rains and it gets so cold, or until the heat is so bad,” Sandiman said.

“My deepest hope is that we are allowed to go back to Marawi but honestly, I would take any permanent address just to get out of here.”

Marie Dalama Acampong, 37, carries her 1-year-old daughter Norlaila at the school-turned-evacuation center in Mipaga, Marawi City, Lanao del Sur province, Philippines. (Photo: Eloisa Lopez/Reuters)

Hundreds of militants, 165 soldiers and at least 45 civilians were killed in the five-month conflict. President Rodrigo Duterte in October 2017 declared the city liberated and its rehabilitation officially underway.

But there is little sign of progress.

Bangon Marawi (Rise Marawi), an interagency task force in charge of reconstruction, has a deadline of 2021 for rebuilding and remains confident of meeting that.

“We could only go as fast as legally possible. We can’t make shortcuts,” its field office manager, Felix Castro, said.

“It takes a while in the beginning but it will be quick once it starts.”

A painting of a mother and a child hangs on a wall at a bullet-riddled structure in Marawi City, Lanao del Sur province, Philippines. (Photo: Eloisa Lopez/Reuters)

ABANDONED CITY

Except for stray dogs and soldiers on guard, Marawi’s commercial center has been abandoned. There is no sign of the promised rehabilitation.

Thousands of people are in limbo following a conflict that no one saw coming.

Most are jobless and dependent on relief goods, like Noronisah Laba Gundarangin, a mother of three, who lives with four other families in her sister’s home.

The 73,000 pesos ($1,385) her family received from government agencies isn’t enough for a small business. They have debts to pay and children to feed.

Noronisah Laba Gundarangin, 40, sits inside her sister's home in Marawi City, Lanao del Sur province, Philippines. (Photo: Eloisa Lopez/Reuters)

Gundarangin, 40, wonders what happened to all the help and money pledged by the international community when the war was in the spotlight. The authorities say not all of that has materialized.

“I know billions (of pesos) were donated to Marawi, but they go through so much bureaucracy that by the time it reaches us, they are pennies,” she said.

The task force commander, Eduardo del Rosario, on Monday said obstacles to progress were debris, unexploded ordnance and unsafe structures, but said those should all be cleared by November, with some construction to start in September.

While awaiting that, the task force has been allowing people to return to see the place they once called home. Now they call it “ground zero.”

Mohammad Ali Acampong, 42, poses at the land where his house stood before the war, during a scheduled visit for displaced people at the most affected area of Marawi City, Lanao del Sur province, Philippines. (Photo: Eloisa Lopez/Reuters)

Acampong gave his consent for his house to be demolished. He returned recently and found a papaya tree growing in its place.

“It’s painful because we had nothing to do with this war. We were just caught up,” he said.

“Everything we’ve worked hard for, all the big and small investments, are now all gone.”

“Every day, it’s like this. Waiting and waiting, as if waiting for death.” (Reuters)

Photography by Eloisa Lopez/Reuters

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Marie Dalama Acampong, 37, and her daughter Shieka, 15, carry containers filled with water at the school-turned-evacuation center in Mipaga, Marawi City, Lanao del Sur province, Philippines. (Photo: Eloisa Lopez/Reuters)
Mohammad Ali Acampong's children pass time in a school-turned-evacuation center in Marawi City, Lanao del Sur province, Philippines. (Photo: Eloisa Lopez/Reuters)
A dilapidated car and building are seen at the most affected war-torn area of Marawi City, Lanao del Sur province, Philippines. (Photo: Eloisa Lopez/Reuters)
Mohammad Ali Acampong, 42, bathes his son in Rurug Agus, Marawi City, Lanao del Sur province, Philippines. (Photo: Eloisa Lopez/Reuters)
A class schedule is seen on a wall spray-painted with "ISIS" at a school in the most affected war-torn area of Marawi City, Lanao del Sur province, Philippines. (Photo: Eloisa Lopez/Reuters)
Marie Dalama Acampong, 37, fills containers with water at the only water source near the school-turned-evacuation center in Mipaga, Marawi City, Lanao del Sur province, Philippines. (Photo: Eloisa Lopez/Reuters)
A family takes a nap in a tent at an evacuation camp for families displaced by the Marawi siege, in Marawi City, Lanao del Sur province, Philippines. (Photo: Eloisa Lopez/Reuters)
Asnia Muloc Sandiman, 25, shows a photo of a dress she made using a sewing machine provided by the government, in her family's tent at an evacuation camp in Marawi City, Lanao del Sur province, Philippines. (Photo: Eloisa Lopez/Reuters)
The dilapidated Saint Mary's Cathedral is seen in Marawi City, Lanao del Sur province, Philippines. (Photo: Eloisa Lopez/Reuters)
Mohammad Ali Acampong, 42, poses for a portrait with his family in a school-turned-evacuation center at Mipaga, Marawi City, Lanao del Sur province, Philippines. (Photo: Eloisa Lopez/Reuters)
A boy carries a basin filled with water at an evacuation camp for families displaced by the Marawi siege, in Marawi City, Lanao del Sur province, Philippines. (Photo: Eloisa Lopez/Reuters)
Girls carry water containers to be filled at an evacuation camp for families displaced by the Marawi siege, in Marawi City, Lanao del Sur province, Philippines. (Photo: Eloisa Lopez/Reuters)
Mohammad Ali Acampong, 42, and his family break their fast with rice, chicken and pineapples during Ramadan in their temporary shelter in Marawi City, Lanao del Sur province, Philippines. (Photo: Eloisa Lopez/Reuters)
Housing units for families displaced by the Marawi siege stand in Marawi City, Lanao del Sur province, Philippines. (Photo: Eloisa Lopez/Reuters)
Abdul Gani, 49, works with a sewing machine as his children and nephews watch TV in a tent at an evacuation camp for families displaced by the Marawi siege, in Marawi City, Lanao del Sur province, Philippines. (Photo: Eloisa Lopez/Reuters)
Asnia Muloc Sandiman, 25, works with a sewing machine provided by the government in her family's tent at an evacuation camp for families displaced by the Marawi siege, in Marawi City, Lanao del Sur province, Philippines. (Photo: Eloisa Lopez/Reuters)
Weeds have grown at the bullet-riddled Grand Mosque in Marawi City, Lanao del Sur province, Philippines. Nature has taken over many structures in the city as it remains abandoned two years after pro-Islamic State militants began their attack on May 23, 2017. (Photo: Eloisa Lopez/Reuters)
Noronisah Laba Gundarangin, 40, lines up to vote at a makeshift polling precinct in Marawi City, Lanao del Sur province, Philippines. (Photo: Eloisa Lopez/Reuters)
A soldier walks out of a destroyed structure at the most affected war-torn area of Marawi City, Lanao del Sur province, Philippines. (Photo: Eloisa Lopez/Reuters)
Dilapidated structures are seen at the most affected war-torn area of Marawi City, Lanao del Sur province, Philippines. (Photo: Eloisa Lopez/Reuters)
Mohammad Ali Acampong, 42, prays inside a mosque at Mipaga, Marawi City, Lanao del Sur province, Philippines. (Photo: Eloisa Lopez/Reuters)
Containers are lined up beside a water tank at an evacuation camp in Marawi City, Lanao del Sur province, Philippines. (Photo: Eloisa Lopez/Reuters)

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