‘Yolanda’ was like the ‘angel of death,’ says prelate of Palo
TACLOBAN CITY, Philippines—At least 500 parishioners sought shelter at the Palo Metropolitan Cathedral and its rectory. Like Archbishop John Du, they held out faith Supertyphoon Yolanda would spare Palo because they had prayed for that.
But the strongest typhoon on record to ever come ashore anywhere did not spare Palo when it barreled through the Visayas on Nov. 8, blowing down much of everything in its way.
The typhoon’s high winds ripped off the roofs of the rectory and the cathedral. Du’s house was damaged while his private chapel collapsed.
“The typhoon was really very strong. It was so unusual. When it hit Palo, it was like the angel of death. It looked like a white smoke that went inside every room, destroyed the doors, blew the roofs off, and killed everyone,” Du said.
Fortunately, not one of the 500 who sought shelter in the cathedral was hurt. But when they went out, they saw bodies scattered on the streets.
Du said they have since been staying in makeshift shanties and tents made of plastic and salvaged galvanized iron sheets.
“Relief goods were brought (to Leyte) but they have not reached Palo and other municipalities because people will mob any vehicle they see bringing relief goods,” he said. “People are becoming so unruly. Some are bringing bolos and axes. They are hungry and all they are thinking of is how to survive. That’s our situation there now.”
To ease hunger, Du gave away the canned goods given to him on his birthday on Octover 18.
“The canned goods were supposed to be used for our feeding program. I have about 10 to 15 boxes so I used them so people would have something to eat,” Du said.
At least 450 chickens in the poultry house of the archdiocese survived the typhoon. Du had them slaughtered and cooked with rice porridge.
“In that way, we have something for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Just a little food for everybody to have something to hold in their stomachs,” said Du, who is treasurer of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines.
After six days and no relief goods in sight, Du decided to go to Cebu last Thursday to ask for help for the people of Palo.
At a news conference in Cebu on Friday, he suggested that donations be coursed through the Saints Peter and Paul Parish in Ormoc City, which, like Tacloban City, is part of the Archdiocese of Palo.
The devastation came as Palo was celebrating its 75th anniversary as an archdiocese.
Du said six out of 76 churches in the archdiocese were intact. The roof of the Santo Niño Church in Tacloban was ripped off while its life-sized images were topped by Yolanda’s strong winds.
Still regular Masses continue in all the churches in the archdiocese, including Tacloban City.
Father Amadeo Alvero, Du’s spokesperson and one of the priests at the Sto. Nino Church, said regular Masses were being celebrated up to 4 p.m. only as Leyte was still without power.
He said the damage to the churches could run into tens of millions of pesos but repair work would have to wait.
“We cannot find carpenters or engineers at this time,” Alvero said, noting that almost everyone in the province had their homes destroyed or damaged.
But Du said what they needed most in Palo was food to survive because reconstruction of the houses and buildings could come later.
He said people had some money but there was nothing anyone could buy in Palo.
Du said there were still bodies on the streets.
“I would have wanted the people to help in taking the dead bodies. But they are in a state of trauma. They don’t know what to do. At one point, I told them let’s help take those dead bodies. But they just stared at me and that’s it. I pity them,” Du said.
He said he wanted soldiers to bury the bodies in mass graves in front of churches, but noted there were only a few soldiers in Palo and asking for the deployment of more was difficult due to lack of communication facilities.
“If we could only communicate with each other, I think it would be a big help,” he said.
Amid the devastation, Du, a native of Bantayan in north Cebu, said he believed the people of his archdiocese would be able to get back on their feet.
“I still believe that God is with us. He is one with us in our sufferings. I’ve been telling people to see beyond the reality. Have faith. We have to trust. I’m hopeful that when we join efforts, we can be able to surpass this difficult situation,” he said.
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