13 November 2013

'We may have ratified our own doom.' Aftermath of Super Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda in Tacloban City, Philippines

The photos above were uploaded on October 30 on her Facebook account by my friend Rhea Gladys Mae Sarigumba, a social worker who lives in Tacloban City. She is with one of her two daughters in the top right while her mother Mrs Vicenta Matildo is in the photo below with her to granddaughters, the children of Rhea and her husband Rogel who is pictured in the top right with his two daughters, his mother-in-law Vicenta and sister-in-law Lalai with her daughter Barbie.

Rhea with her husband Rogel and their daughters whose nicknames are 'Xycy' and 'Xie Ann'.

I've had no news about Rhea since Super Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda hit Tacloban City early on Friday morning, 8 November. One of the last entries by Rhea on the timeline of her Facebook is a link to an update on the approaching storm on the website of PAGASA, the national weather bureau in the Philippines issued at 6AM on 7 November, less than 24 hours before it hit the islands of Samar and Leyte in the Eastern Visayas. ('PAGASA' is an acronym but in the Visayan languages, spoken in the hardest-hit areas, it means 'hope'.)

Rhea's very last entry on Facebook, dated 7 November, was How can I sleep when 
all I hear is raindrops.. #kanta lang teh? (Just sing?)

Vicenta, Rhea's mother left Surigao del Norte in Mindanao, where she lives, for Tacloban City on Sunday but I haven't heard from her since. However,  a mutual friend and neighbour of Vicenta texted me this morning that Vicenta's mother and her sisters are all safe as they had evacuated before the storm hit.

This afternoon I received a text message from another Rhea, Sr Rhea Lei Tolibas TC, a young religious of the Capuchin Tertiary Sisters of the Holy Family who is based in the novitiate of the Sisters just north of Bacolod City. She's from Tanauan, Leyte, seen at the beginning of the video above, a coastal town about 45 minutes south of Tacloban City. Her family are safe and in an evacuation centre but lack food and water. Sr Rhea mentioned that people are desperate. 

BBC World reported this afternoon, Wednesday, that eight people had been killed while a crowd stormed a storehouse looking for food.

The website of the Mercy International Association carries this report of damage to the hospital and school of the Mercy Sisters in Tacloban:

As a human tragedy, the scale of the disaster is so enormous that it is almost beyond our comprehension. What makes this tragedy especially compelling for us is that our own Sisters are significantly effected. The new Mother of Mercy hospital at Tacloban is 50% damaged, the Holy Infant school and college 75% damaged, the Convent in Mindanao badly damaged and the food supplies have run out. It is,of course, impossible to make direct contact with our Sisters, but our understanding is that no Sister is hurt, thank God. However, news has filtered through that some of our Sisters' families are harmed or missing. In the midst of this disaster, these Sisters of Mercy continue to bring human and spiritual comfort and support to all in such drastic need around them.

Six Irish Mercy Sisters from St Maries of the Isle, Cork, went to Tacloban in 1954 at the invitation of Bishop Lino Gonzaga of Palo. That original group grew into a new congregation of Mercy Sisters that now has 47 members, all Filipinos, working in a number of areas. Education and medical care have always been central to Mercy Sisters. Mother of Mercy Hospital, Tacloban City, was one expression of that. 

The six Irish Sisters were asked to take over the running of an already established school that has grown into Holy Infant College (HIC). Ironically, the thene for the 87th anniversary of the establishment of the school was Responding to the Challenges of Climate Change.

Yeb Saño, Climate Change Commissioner of the Philippines and a delegate to the 2013 Climate Change Conference in Warsaw speaks very movingly about the impact of Haiyan/Yolanda on his own family. Whether or not the super typhoon was caused by climate change it reminds us of the urgency of respecting God's creation. And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good (Genesis 1:31, RSVCE). We may have ratified our own doom, Mr Saño points out. But there still is room for us to act.

From looking at news reports on television I see some hope that  within two or three days essential aid, food, drinking water, shelter, medicine,communication systems, proper sanitation, the recovery and burial of all the dead, may avert an even greater disaster than what is there now. Good weather that will last for at least a few days is expected by Friday.

Last night President Aquino said that the estimate of 10,000 dead was too high and that the government believed the death toll was around 2,500. The final figure may be somewhere in between those two estimates. But each death is a tragedy for family and relatives.

When my friend Rhea Sarigumba posted the PAGASA update on Facebook she wrote, May God guide us with His loving care and protection.

May God give strength to all in the affected areas, victims, those bringing aid, administrators and media people. 

Will Yeb Saño's warning, We may have ratified our own doom, come true or will there be a place for Xycy, Xie Ann, Mabel, the children born just after the storm, and their contemporaries around the world at the table of life when they grow up?

Just now, 7:50pm Philippine time, I received news that the family of Reah and Rogel are all safe. Thanks be to God.


Ruth Ann Pilney said...

Thank you for this post. It puts a face on a tragedy that is so far from where I live. Yet it touches us here, too.
We have two priests from the Philippines who are ministering in our parish, Fr. Walter Tabios is our assistant priest who has worked among us for several years.
Fr. Jong Sugaba is visiting from the Philippines and is helping out during the transition of our Pastor who is retiring in December. We know their families are okay, but I can see that the tragedy weighs on both priests.
It sounds as though you are doing well under the circumstances.
May God be merciful!

Fr Seán Coyle said...

A short while ago at 8:20am Thursday Philippine time I was able to talk to Reah Sarigumba. She and her family are all safe, thank God. They are in Palo, just south of Tacloban. Palo is the seat of the Archdiocese of Palo that includes Tacloban City.

Ruth Ann Pilney said...

How wonderful. It's good to hear Reah and her family survived and are safe. I'm watching the news about the Philippines on the BBC and US news programs. It seems that relief supplies and workers are making some headway---finally.

I admire the Philippine people when the reporters ask them questions. They bring the reporters to their home, and it's evident that there's hardly a roof over their heads and all kinds of rubble strewn around. But they are stoical and seem to be handling it well.