This is simply to offer an outline of the tragic situation in northern Mindanao after Typhoon Sendong (known internationally as Wasi) hit the area on Friday and Saturday last.
There were heavy rains (but no heavy winds) in Ozamiz on Friday, Dec 16. This caused extensive flooding, some of it around the Catadman (where the former Columban House is). The water levels rose gradually (though quickly) and then receded later. Some of our former workers have houses in that area, but their houses are built such that they were above the water levels. The Columban Sisters “Community of Hope “was not affected. Fr. Vinnie Busch’s house where the Subanen Crafts project is based and where he lives was also spared though there was water all around. The house where Fr. Sean Martin lives is on high ground and unaffected. Fr. Don Kill’s house was slightly affected.
The typhoon hit the more westerly area of North Mindanao late on Friday night with high winds and heavy rains. It was early on Saturday morning while most people were asleep that the worst devastation happened with flash floods ripping through large areas including Cagayan de Oro and Iligan. It would seem that water rushing down from the mountains and bringing trees and other debris (including uprooted coconut trees etc) crashed through these densely populated areas with tragic results. Many people simply had no chance. The scenes of devastation speak for themselves. People living on the small islet “Isla de Oro” at the mouth of Cagayan River were simply swept away as the whole islet disappeared. A similar fate overtook those on the islet at the mouth of Mandulog River in Iligan.
In Cagayan de Oro, Holy Rosary Parish (where Fr. Paul Finlayson is parish priest) was affected, though relatively so where compared to other places in the city. To date there are two reported deaths in the parish and a number of houses destroyed. Other parts of the city were much more heavily damaged and there are now several hundred reported fatalities with more hundreds unaccounted for. In some instances whole families were wiped out and this adds to the confusion as to numbers killed or missing. There are no immediate relatives to give information and with communication made difficult it will take time for relatives to come to check on those who have not been in contact since Saturday.
One of our workers in the Columban House in Cagayan had his house severely damaged though he and his family were physically unharmed as they climbed onto the roof of their house and stayed there until rescued. They are now staying in our house in Cagayan. Many of their neighbours were less fortunate and were killed.
The cook in Holy Rosary has a severe gash in her leg – she was hit by part of a roof of another house. She is being cared for by the Marisol Rojas and Anna Flores, Columban lay missionaries, in their house which was unaffected.
The city government says it cannot guarantee that water will be restored before the end of the year. This water shortage is also compounding efforts to identify bodies which are still being recovered as many of them are covered in mud. There is some tension around this as suggestions have been made to bury the dead once found, but relatives, very understandably and already traumatized, need to identify the bodies of their loved ones and give them some semblance of a dignified burial. The city government has asked neighboring towns to send their fire trucks to bring water and distribute it to those in need.
Relief efforts have been slow but are now being organized. Associate Priest Matthew (Park Chan-In) and our two Chinese students (John Wang and Joseph Li), who had gone to Cagayan last Friday as part of their Christmas vacation, are presently helping at the Cathedral in Cagayan with the packing of goods for those affected. Marisol and Anna are also helping there.
Fr. Paul Finlayson is trying to organize facilities in his own Church compound to temporarily house around 20-25 families. He will also have to try to provide food, water and some clothing. Other parishes are doing likewise.
Fr. Pat O’Donoghue