CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/26 January) – More than 7,000 residents here gathered on top of the Kagay-an Bridge Wednesday night lighting candles and listening to the tales of the survivors of the flood that killed hundreds and wiped out entire villages December 17 last year.
It was a very emotional night for most of the Kagay-anons who for the first time came together in a big gathering to mark the 40th day – a Catholic tradition – since Storm Sendong devastated Cagayan de Oro and Iligan cities.
Joining them was President Benigno Simeon Aquino III who came earlier in the day to see the resettlement projects in Barangay Lumbia and Sitio Calaanan here. Aquino also went to Iligan City and conferred with officials there.
Aquino, in his talk at the Xavier Ecoville, the resettlement site in Barangay Lumbia, vowed that the Sendong tragedy would not be repeated in the future by building a Sabo dam costing about P920 million upriver in Cagayan de Oro. (See separate story for more on the Sabo dam.)
He also assured flood survivors that “no one will be left behind” in the new resettlement sites constructed in Barangays Lumbia, Indahag and Sitio Calaanan in Cagayan de Oro City.
Thousands mourned over the estimated 1,000 people who died and who are still missing because of the flood that wiped out villages located beside Cagayan de Oro River.
Early Wednesday morning, around 200 relatives gathered for a Mass held at the center of Cala-cala, where none of the almost 1,000 houses by the riverbank stood after 20-foot high floodwaters wiped out the village last Dec. 17.
As the residents prayed in silence, a wailing was heard beside the Cagayan de Oro River. “Pa, pakita pud Pa!” (Father, show yourself please!) a visibly upset teenage girl wept.
When the priests asked the crowd who had relatives who died or are still missing, almost all of those in attendance raised their hands.
“This is a very emotional moment for all of us,” Monsignor Tex Legitimas of the Macasandig parish church said.
Leo Capunay, who lost his wife Theresa and seven others in his family, said the flood, after tearing down their house in Cala-cala, took him all the way to the shores of Balingasag town in Misamis Oriental, 32 kilometers from Cagayan de Oro.
“I do not know why God allowed me to survive while my entire family died. I am so hopeless now without them,” he said.
Later, thousands of Cagayan de Oro residents trooped to the top of Kagay-an Bridge to answer the call of Archbishop Antonio Ledesma to pray and light candles for the dead and the victims.
Police estimated the crowd at 7,000 and had to close the traffic on both sides of the bridge.
Some students used candles to form the phrase “HEAL CDO.”
Many were moved to tears with tale of 11-year-old Lucy Rio Jo on how she survived the deluge.
“Our entire family was inside our house in Cala-cala when it collapsed and was carried away by the flood that night,” Lucy narrated.
“We were holding on to each other until our house came to this very bridge. Our house broke on impact and I was thrown away from the others,” she said.
Rio Jo said it was like riding a roller coaster as the waters carried her across the two other bridges in Cagayan de Oro.
“I was over the top of the Ysalina bridge that I can see the lights of the City Hall. Then I found myself on the bottom spinning like a top when I reached Isla de Oro. I thought that was the end of me,” she said.
Naked and near-death, Lucy said she was washed away to Camiguin Island where she was found by rescuers the next day.
Monsignor Elmer Abacahin said many survivors have yet to accept what had happened to them and to their families.
“Maybe it will take months and it could go years. We hope their faith in God can hold them through,” Abacahin said. (Froilan Gallardo / MindaNews)