Journalists still grieving over lives lost to storm ‘Sendong’

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ILIGAN CITY, Philippines — One year on, remembrance still brought tears to the eyes of journalists who chronicled the tragedy spawned by tropical storm ‘Sendong’ on Dec. 16 and 17 in 2011.

“Scanning my file of photos, I could not help but cry,” said photojournalist Richel Umel.

The flashfloods that drowned some 20 villages lying along the path of Mandulog and Iligan Rivers wiped out houses and killed more than a thousand  people.

It was the worst disaster to have hit the city.

Umel was among those who responded to the disaster scene early morning of Dec. 17.

While shooting images of the massive destruction in Hinaplanon village, Umel froze and cried at the sight of people who had drowned amid the throng of grieving flood survivors.

“Images of tragic events I went through and witnessed since I was young, especially the wars, flashed in my mind,” related the 53-year-old Umel.

“At that moment, I could not stand the grief,” he recalled.

“Journalists face unusual challenges when covering violent or mass tragedies. They interact with victims dealing with extraordinary grief,” wrote Joe Hight and Frank Smyth in the book “Tragedies & Journalists,” published by the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma.

It was doubly straining for local journalists who were also victims of the tragic incident.

After gathering information and images of the early moments of the disaster, TV journalist Ronnie Enderes remembers wading through the floods to get to his relatives in Barangay San Roque.

By the time he reached the area, his relatives were already on top of their houses.

“I was not mindful of the danger. My only focus was getting to my relatives,” said Enderes.

Some 20 journalists suffered the brunt of the flashfloods in 2011. A broadcaster, Leonisid Emmanuel Alsonado, died during the disaster.

Another broadcaster, Angelito Kundiman, was flushed out to sea. His body has not been found until now.

On Sunday, local journalists honored fallen colleagues through a floral offering and candle lighting ceremony at the banks of Mandulog River.

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