Christmas in mud in Tacloban

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TREE OF HOPE Hundreds of people watch the lighting of the giant Christmas tree in front of City Hall. VER NOVENO/CONTRIBUTOR

TACLOBAN CITY—Survivors of the Philippines’ deadliest typhoon spent a gloomy Christmas Day surrounded by mud as heavy rain drove many inside their flimsy shelters, dampening efforts to retain some holiday cheer in the deeply devout nation.

Groups of children in plastic raincoats braved the incessant rain on Wednesday in this devastated city, knocking on doors in trick-or-treat fashion and beseeching pedestrians for candies, coins and other Christmas presents.

But housewife Susan Scala sat glumly under a white tarpaulin in one of Tacloban’s many tent cities that have sprung up for those made homeless by Supertyphoon “Yolanda.” At a time when her family should be celebrating, all she could think about was her missing husband.

“Even if it’s not Christmas I don’t stop thinking about him,” the mother of five said of her husband Oscar, a telephone utility worker believed lost at sea when giant waves whipped up by the Nov. 8 storm swept away homes in Tacloban’s San Jose slum.

Like many of the city’s typhoon survivors, the miserable weather made Scala nervous. “This incessant rain is scary. It reminds me of what happened (during the typhoon),” the 53-year-old said.

Papal Nuncio Guiseppe Pinto during his homily in a Christmas Mass celebrated at the typhoon-destroyed Sto. Niño Church in Tacloban said the survivors of “a catastrophe beyond all telling” were close to the heart of Pope Francis.

“You know how much he cares for you,” said Pinto, the Holy See’s representative to the country.

He disclosed that Pope Francis, speaking before a group of faithful that included several Filipinos in a papal audience at the Vatican on Nov. 21, said that he “felt that the trials were too tough but I also felt that the (Filipino) people were strong.”

“Christmas is an assurance that despite the tragedy you have faced, you are not alone. God is with you, God is with us! Our faith sustains us to look  ahead jointly and to move forward,” he told the crowd of about a thousand.

On Christmas Eve, Pinto led the Mass at Our Lady of Transfiguration Cathedral in Palo town, where he was joined by Leyte Archbishop John Du and several other priests.

 

Sad Christmas

Yolanda (international name: Haiyan) left more than 6,100 people dead and nearly 2,000 others missing, many of them from Tacloban and nearby towns, in the storm-prone country’s deadliest typhoon disaster.

About 4.4 million others were left homeless across the central islands and now live in tents provided by aid agencies or rough shacks fashioned by survivors from the wreckage of destroyed homes and fallen trees.

In the city’s ruined Sagkahan fish port, 67-year-old widow Emiliana Aranza pulled sweets and short bread from jars at her makeshift store in front of her shanty to give to the children who knocked on her counter.

“It’s a sad Christmas Day. We have lost our home and the government will not allow us to rebuild here, as it’s too close to the shore,” she said.

But she said sharing what is left of her possessions had an uplifting effect.

“There are still a lot of reasons that we should be thankful to God,” she said, including the fact that her two adult children and their 13 sons and daughters,  who now have to live together in the cramped shanty, survived the disaster.

“Because of the typhoon, members of my family are now tightly knit. Gone are the petty quarrels,” she added.

Scala said her family ate a traditional midnight meal on Christmas Eve, but had to make do with tinned sardines and steamed rice, part of the weekly aid rations from the government and humanitarian agencies.

Uncertain future

For breakfast on Christmas Day, she said her family ate the previous night’s leftovers and would have to make do with instant noodles for lunch.

She does not have any idea where she will get the money to build a new house or whether she will be able to send her two school-age children back to school.

Downtown, bespectacled mother Maria Meneses, 31, dived into a pile of garbage outside a department store along with half a dozen or so other residents left impoverished by the storm.

“This is for my daughter,” she said, showing a salvaged pack of two tiny candy-colored cake candles that she had spirited into her pink handbag.

“I was waiting for the store to open to buy batteries for my daughter’s walkie-talkie toy and told myself, ‘Why not, some of those items thrown in among the trash are still in good condition.’” Reports from Joey A. Gabieta, Inquirer Visayas, and AFP

 

 

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