IT HAS almost been a year since the disaster in Southern Leyte province occurred. About 1,000 people died in the landslide that buried Barangay Guinsaugon in St. Bernard town.
Ten months after the tragedy, another misfortune happened. “Reming” crippled the Bicol region, especially the province of Albay, after pummeling it with strong winds and heavy rains that resulted in mudslides. One thousand bodies are believed to have been buried in the mud that swept over the towns of Santo Domingo, Daraga and Guinobatan and Legazpi City.
If I was deeply touched by the cries of Guinsaugon when about 1,000 of its residents died, I lament even more the tragedy that struck the whole Bicol region. The weeping of Albay over the loss of more than a thousand residents keeps ringing in my ears and causes tears to fall from my eyes. Indeed it strikes deeper to hear about a disaster when the victims are your “kababayan” [region-mates].
When I was still living in Gubat town, in Sorsogon province, I experienced a number of typhoons. But in all the 16 years that I spent in Gubat, I never heard of a supertyphoon with such ruinous and catastrophic effects as Reming. While some of the typhoons I experienced blew away roofs from houses and blew down trees, I never saw cadavers scattered along streets or people digging for anything they could recover, not to mention loved ones, from houses buried by mud. The worst typhoon I can recall happened in 1998, and it shattered my grandmother’s store and left some people homeless.
Bicol, like the Samar provinces, is always the first place in the county to be hit by a typhoon. It often suffers the heaviest damage to agriculture, roads and infrastructure. After Reming, the local governments of Bicol had a grimmer task to perform: embalming and burying the more than 300 bodies recovered, searching hundreds of others who were missing, providing food, water and clothing for over 500,000 victims, building shelters for 30,000 homeless families and providing livelihood for families whose rice fields, tricycles, jeeps, poultry and livestock disappeared.
As I watched the news about the “delubyo” [deluge] in Albay, I couldn’t help but feel deeply affected. As far as I know, this was the first time Albay suffered such devastation. After the landslide in Guinsaugon, I was shocked to know the high death toll and felt the pain of losing fellow Filipinos. However, when I listened to reports about the deaths in Albay, I felt as if I had lost friends and family members.
But it has been said that from every great misfortune, there will always emerge heroes. At the height of Reming in Albay, the people helped their neighbors get out of their houses and into safer places. By then, the flood water had already reached as high as 10 feet and they had to walk on the roofs to get out of harm’s way.
When Reming was gone, more heroes became known. The members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines lived up to their mandate to protect the people, helping in the rescue of survivors and in the search for the dead and the missing. Several rescuers and volunteers belonging to the Philippine National Red Cross and other organizations also helped to ease the sufferings of families in Bicol.
It was very pleasing to hear that Bicol was getting help from our countrymen as well as from several other countries. The Pope offered prayers for the victims, particularly the dead. Canada, Japan and Spain gave money, food and clothes.
Several foundations and private companies joined other volunteers in distributing relief goods to the people of Bicol. Some gave words of encouragement or healing to those who had been traumatized by the tragedy.
Even before Reming made its landfall, the media were already reporting about the supertyphoon. And they did a good job in telling the rest of the country about the death and destruction it left behind. More than that, they also accommodated calls for assistance in whatever way. They linked the victims with their kin while power was off and cell phones didn’t work.
All these humanitarian acts helped ease the pain of my “kababayan.” But I felt most deeply touched by what the province of Southern Leyte did. The day after Reming passed, Southern Leyte dispatched two teams to Albay to assist in the rescue and retrieval operations. This was meant to reciprocate and demonstrate its appreciation for the assistance it received from many places after Guinsaugon was buried by a landslide. As Gov. Rosette Lerias put it, “We know how they (in Albay) feel because we have experienced it more than anybody else. It’s our turn to help them.”
I thank everyone who has helped the Bicol region. Thank you for the continuous prayers, for the food, water and clothes, for the services offered for free, and for the sympathy. Thank you for your heroic and noble deeds.
Eugenio Antonio E. Dig, 20, is a graduate of Bachelor of Arts in Public Administration from the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City.
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