SAN PEDRO, Laguna- A day after Christmas, 444 families living in a “Tent City” here since the August monsoon rains will finally be returning home.
The flood victims totaling 26,060 individuals from the villages of Cuyab and Landayan started heading to their homes on Wednesday after the local government here informed them that their houses that were immersed in floodwater for months until it subsided last month were now habitable and ready for occupation.
The evacuees found shelter in a tent city put up in a private-owned space here and rented by the municipal government, but the contract with the property owner ended on Wednesday, according to Municipal Social Welfare and Development Officer Fatima Awtor.
For the evacuees, going home even to their still wrecked houses was still so much better than staying in the Tent City, where they spent a bleak Christmas.
“There were no Christmas trees, lanterns, or fireworks. Not even a radio for music or a television so we could have at least watched Christmas shows,” said evacuee Elizabeth Recto, 53.
Another evacuee, Carol Rotoni, 30, said she and her mother did not feel the spirit of Christmas.
“How can there be merry-making or parties when we didn’t even have food (on Christmas Eve),” she said.
Recto said spending the Holidays in the tent city was painful for her especially because their state reminded her of her husband, Edilberto, who died at the height of typhoon “Ondoy” in 2009.
But she said she and her two children and three grandchildren were still lucky to have a half chicken and rice for Noche Buena, when “the other tents didn’t have any.”
Thousands from the lakeshore towns in Laguna and Rizal left their homes when the water in the Laguna Lake rose in August.
Regional Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council director Vicente Tomazar said the number of evacuated families reached 17,190 in Laguna and around 12,000 families in Rizal at the time, but the figures had significantly gone down when the flood started to ease in October and November.
Laguna Lake Development Authority resident hydrologist Emil Hernandez on Monday said, the water level, presently at around 12.5 meters, had “normalized” earlier this month.
“The flood had already eased but some portions of the shore lands planted with crops are still wet. We expect them to dry up by January in time for the planting season by summer,” he said.
But even with the flood already gone in some areas, Recto said they could not go back right away with their houses damaged by the flood. “We were also afraid of the snakes and mosquitoes, especially because we have children in the family,” she said.
Awtor said their office made sure the lakeshore villages were already safe and the houses already repaired before they ordered the evacuees to return to their homes.
Five families, meanwhile, availed themselves of the government’s Balik-Probinsya program wherein they were given fare to go back to their home provinces outside of Laguna.
“We would still rather welcome the New Year at home even if we only have rice or sardines on the table. At least, we’re home,” Recto said.