FASTLANES: Tears for the victims; revulsion for the floods

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SUBIC BAY FREEPORT (MindaNews/17 December) — My wife and I were awakened about three o’clock in the morning when a text message popped in my phone. It was Art Bonjoc, Area Manager of ABS-CBN Northern Mindanao saying:

“Agencies in CDO ran out of rescue teams. Most of the downtown flooded over 5ft. Most streets impenetrable and unpassable. Floodwaters now reach the bridges. Lots of people now on roof tops wet and dreadful. Some houses washed away. Rains continue to fall. Power stl not yet restored, some electric posts fell due to strong winds. Rescue groups ask for more rubber boats. Some police rescuers trapped. Dis is d worst dat hit cdo since. Pls check ur family and relatives’ safety.”

Art’s message was horrific as it was surreal.

I had to walk two blocks to a convenience store to top up load for our cell phones as my wife and I  had to check our friends and relatives.

My mother-in-law replied that bodies are piling up in a funeral parlor in Barangay Bulua.  I checked the television for breaking news, but got none, as usual. The feed was the lazy weekend news prepared by some desks as “advancers” in newsroom parlance. At around 9 a.m., briefings from the Manila officials started coming in.

Texting and calling friends in media, however, confirmed my worst fears. As of my latest count the casualties of the floods of Dec. 17, 2011 in Cagayan de Oro and Iligan cities surpassed 200 with hundreds more missing and many feared dead. The last information I got from my relatives is that I have lost two nephews who were in their grade school and a number of friends.

My Doha office is asking for a story on the disaster. While writing, I had to let out my feelings of sadness and revulsion via the social media Facebook, where stories of helplessness, encouragement and the basic information sharing among out-of-town Cagayanons and Iliganons with those on the watery ground was abuzz in trying to make sense out of the human-induced tragedy.

All Kagayanons and Iliganons share the grief now. I hope a lesson or two can learned from this tragedy. Meanwhile those who are not in their hometowns, I am sure that aside from prayers, help will be forthcoming to the victims either through the formal relief operations or directly to relatives and friends.

As soon photos from by Froilan Gallardo and Erwin Mascarinas and Ritchel Umil seeped through the wires, I could not help but shed tears for the victims and feel that revolting feeling inside me.

Even as I organize my thoughts and information for a story on the tragedy and reflecting on past struggles of non-violent campaigns to stop illegal logging in the watersheds of Cagayan de Oro more than 10 years ago, I cannot help but ask: Have the warnings come too early? The shouting stopped too soon? Or the causes of this tragedy just ignored for so damn long. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. The writer, an environmentalist from Cagayan de Oro, is a Senior Editor of a news bureau of an Arabic newspaper. Comments can be sent through [email protected])

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