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40 days after Yolanda

/ 12:09 PM December 19, 2013

Tacloban City — Forty days after supertyphoon Yolanda battered the coast of Tacloban City, sweeping away nearly all houses and killing hundreds of residents, residents walked to San Jose Parish church at dawn of Tuesday for the Misa de Gallo.

The roads were dark, side roads filled with mud from the previous night’s downpour.

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Mixed emotions filled the air as residents overflowed the church.

“It is a feeling of happiness and of mourning,” said Nora Cinco, a 59-year-old choir member after singing the Christmas song ‘Kasadya Ning Taknaa’ in the final song for the mass of the 2nd day of Misa de Gallo.

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In Christian tradition, 40 days mark the time a departed soul ‘leaves earth’ for heaven.

The night before, candles were lighted along a 10-kilometer stretch from Tacloban airport to barangay Anibong.

People lined the streets bringing photos and memorabilia of departed loved ones. They were there to pray for their eternal rest.

The activity was organized by the Tacloban city government, the sectoral group One Tacloban and Heritage Commission of Tacloban as a way for people to express their grief.

“It is very easy to provide physical relief like goods and housing materials but the hardest part is to provide psychological and emotional relief to the people especially those who lost a family member,” said Fr. Hector Villamil, parish priest.

Nuns and social workers conduct post-traumatic stress session, but Fr. Villamil said it was not enough. One can never fully understand the extent of another individual’s grief.

“I hope this activity will hasten and shorten the feeling of grief,” Villamil said.

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In a lighter vein, the priest told parishioners not to neglect their grooming.

“Panudlay kamo, pagpa rebond kay daghan taga media mag interview kaninyo,” Villamil said in jest before the mass ended.

(Comb your hair, have it rebonded because there are media reporters who want to interview you.)

Fr. Noel Lao, a newly ordained priest, concelebrated the dawn Mass with Fr. Villamil, his mentor.

For three days before that, residents prayed the rosary at 8 p.m.

Coastal communities will be visited and given a special blessing.

Lifeless bodies are still found among piles of trash by government workers, including Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) assigned to clear the streets.

Residents try to get on with their lives but most don’t have offices to report to; commercial buildings are damaged. Students can’t use their classrooms, which are damaged or turned into evacuation centers.

Families could be seen cleaning their houses or lining up for relief items or cash distributed.

“We survived because of the help we received from different people,” Cinco said.

The church in San Jose was the only structure lighted at dawn.

Tacloban Electric Company (Telco) is still repairing downed power lines.

An 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew in the city, to deter looting and lawlessness, was adjusted to 4 am.

“They allowed people to attend the masses at 4:30 am,” Villamil said.

On Tuesday, children and parents lined up for a bowl of lugaw (porridge) distributed outside the church after the mass.

They went home to change to casual clothes and fall in line at the church for food.

The congee provided by the Jollibee Foundation was a simple act of kindness that keeps people going, the priest said.

“They recovered because of the relief provided,” Villamil told Cebu Daily News.

“I don’t have to challenge them in order to live again. A little push, a few words of inspiration and assurance to survive are enough to keep them moving,” he said.

Some may have lost homes and lives but they continue to move forward.

“They have not lost hope. I don’t have to challenge them. In fact they (victims) are the ones who give me inspiration to stay. They stayed to rebuild their homes. Why would I go on vacation somewhere?” he said after friends prodded him to take a break.

By 4 p.m. people started lining up candles along the highway in coastal areas hardest hit by Yolanda.

The gloomy and dark streets of Tacloban brightened at dusk.

Marieta Artuza-Delantar, 54, lit her candle.

She had lost her 34-year-old niece Maricel Abuan when giant waves lashed their home in barangay Anibong. Until now, they haven’t found her remains.

The stranded vessel MV Eva Jocelyn landed on their home.

“Everyday we pray for her soul and light candles. We pray that the Lord forgive their sins so they are able to enter heaven,” Abuan said.

Eight-year-old Rhea Tabuac said her grandparents were killed along with two cousins.

“I pray that they will go to heaven and that our home and school will be fixed because I want to go back to school,” the little girl said.

Rhea was alone lighting six candles along the road because her parents were busy preparing dinner.

She kept watch of the candles, making sure they wouldn’t be extinguished by the gusts of passing relief trucks.

A full moon shone over Tacloban city, illuminated further by candles lighted for each missing or lifeless victim of Yolanda.

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