URGENT APPEAL: My personal experience of the earthquakes in Kidapawan and surrounding towns

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KIDAPAWAN CITY (MindaNews / 07 November) – On October 16, 2019, our Bishop and all the clergy and a large crowd gathered for the dedication of the Kidapawan Cathedral which was renovated with paintings, stained glasses and a magnificent display of Saints like a vision of heaven.

Fr. Peter Geremia, PIME. MindaNews file photo by RUBY THURSDAY MORE

After a very long ceremony, many people stayed inside for picture taking. Suddenly around 7 pm, a 6.3 earthquake struck and sent all running out from the church in panic. It was a kind of minor miracle that no one was crushed or stepped upon…

On October 29, 2019 at 9 in the morning, we were struck again by a stronger shock, Magnitude 6.6. I was inside the ICON-SP (Inter-Cultural Organization’s Network for Solidarity and Peace) building which was shaking like a drunk giant about to collapse. A group of tribal women were practicing dressmaking and we were all forced to run out and find shelter under the trees. The participants in the activity hurried to their homes worried about their families. Many aftershocks followed.

On October 31, 2019 the clergy and the Bishop and some brave faithful people gathered at the diocese for the celebration of the Day of Martyrs. Again around 9 in the morning, a third shock still stronger than the previous ones forced us to take cover again under the trees by the cemetery. There we held our solemn Mass remembering the Martyrs, praying for their protection from calamities. Many felt that Mother Nature is very angry at us.

Since then many aftershocks, many houses collapsed or showed cracks and many people feel afraid of staying inside the houses and sleep outside even if it rains…

The tallest hotel in Kidapawan city fell to its knees and could not stand up again because the first floor collapsed and the building may fall apart anytime. Hospitals evacuated their patients outside, schools closed and most stores and even some churches also closed temporarily. Huge landslides appeared around Mt. Apo like open wounds. Several communities were forced to evacuate and were advised to abandon their houses permanently in view of relocation to safer areas. Thousands of people took shelter in evacuation centers waiting for help.

 The Local Authorities in the 19 municipalities in our Province and also our Bishop and priests and all our parishes mobilized people to provide assistance. Drinking water, food supplies, tents, clothing, etc. were brought to the convention hall of the diocese and distributions were implemented quickly. Many volunteers and various groups from all over the country also joined the relief operation. However as of now we are still preparing for medical missions in many evacuation centers and for people sleeping outdoors.

On November 2, 2019, I went to a very remote village in Arakan for the burial of two brothers who died under a rain of stones on October 31. The older brother, Angelo Andy, 22 years old with a 2-year old son on his back as the tribals are accustomed to carry their children, and a younger brother 7 years old.

Without any warning, a rain of stones came down from the mountain. Then the rescuers found the older brother embracing the younger one, both dead, while the little child was thrown a bit far from the two. He was still alive and is now at the hospital hoping that he may survive.

Many people gathered around the two dead bodies. I prayed that the example of the older brother who tried to save his younger brother may inspire us to help each other in this time of calamity. I prayed for the child who survived, who represents all survivors who are now struggling to overcome the effects of the earthquakes.

That area is still considered a critical area where NPA (New Peoples Army) rebels and the Bagani or Tribal warriors under the military have been fighting recently. I prayed that the two dead brothers and the little survivor may inspire us all to unite for peace and for the protection of all.

On November 6, we conducted an initial Medical Mission at an evacuation center in Makilala. A volunteer doctor and our health team from Arakan were able to prepare emergency medicines and were able to start this first Medical Mission. Because of some difficulties in coordinating with some local authorities, the activity started in the afternoon and ended when it was dark.

Because of so many patients, we will continue to conduct medical missions in the following days not only in evacuation centers but also in the remote areas where people are clustered under the trees, near the landslides or where they can keep some of their animals.

During the medical mission, I was shocked by the stories about so many victims buried under the landslides. One mother mentioned that on October 29, four tappers, including one of her sons, were working in the rubber plantation when suddenly all four were buried under the landslides and the rubber plantation disappeared, and up to now, they were not able to recover the bodies.

A neighbor mentioned that another worker was buried under the landslide but was able to struggle until he came out with many bruises all over the body. Another mentioned that two motorcycles loaded with young people who went to that area to play basketball, then suddenly the two motorcycles disappeared and they heard the riders calling for help but they could not do anything. They were not yet able to identify how many were riding on those motorcycles…

As of now, November 6, aftershocks keep us ready to run out from houses or buildings carrying our most important survival needs. We are preparing for a long term rehabilitation process which may last for months or even years. We pray that God may give us the strength and determination to reach out to many of our people who are struggling to survive. We pray also for all who help us in this time of calamity.

(Italian missionary Fr. Peter Geremia, PIME, has lived in the Philippines since 1972 and has lived in North Cotabato since 1980. Geremia chairs the Board of Directors of ICON-SP).

Below is a listing of the ICON-SP’s ongoing response, planned activities to be carried out immediately, and long-term intervention, as prepared by Jocelyn H. Aquiatan and ICON-SP staff. ICON-SP is located at Purok 2, Balindog, Kidapawan City with local telephone number 5723935 and mobile 09983695132. Email ad is [email protected]

OUR ONGOING RESPONSE:

Needs assessment and targeting

ICON-SP has deployed its staff and area coordinators to assess the needs and situation of our partner communities. The number of affected families/individuals is still in the process of documentation but the immediate needs during the ocular visits have been identified to include:

  1. emergency shelter
  2. food and essential household items
  3. health (medicines, psychosocial support & intervention)
  4. water
  5. sanitation and hygiene.

Summary of immediate needs are outlined below:

Shelter

There is a need to support families whose houses have been damaged or destroyed. Some families have also been evacuated for fear of landslides and it is unclear if they will be allowed to return – landslides are reported in several areas.

Many are currently staying in open areas exposed to the monsoon rains, and in evacuation centers, as their houses are uninhabitable or are in unsafe areas. Depending on the results of the assessments, there will likely be a need to consider medium-term shelter solutions such as distribution of conditional cash, durable materials and technical assistance. There will also be a need to provide transitional shelter until longer-term solutions can be found.

Health

The earthquake has put pressure on the already stretched public health system. A number of hospitals are closed, several other hospitals placed their patients outdoors because their buildings are not safe. There is lack of adequate facilities and medical supplies, medicines and equipment and human resources to cater to all the patients in need of services as well as a risk that facilities could become overwhelmed.

Immediate first aid (FA) and psychosocial support (PSS) including psychological first aid (PFA) to the affected population is the most needed service at this point of time; with many already traumatized from the previous earthquake and the continuous threats of disease.

As of to date, many families are sleeping in open areas due to the fear of aftershocks, and not feeling safe to return to their homes. There will be a pivotal need to provide affected population and the volunteers deployed with holistic PSS.

Water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH)

The earthquake has disrupted access to water supply and sanitation facilities. There will be a need to mobilize water treatment units to provide safe drinking water to families who have been displaced and are staying in evacuation centers; as well as temporary sanitation facilities. Due to the sudden nature of the earthquake, families at evacuation centers can be expected to require basic hygiene items, and key hygiene messages. There is a need to support some of the evacuation centers and medical centers with emergency sanitation.

Temporary learning spaces

As many schools have been damaged (including some of our IP schools in Tulunan area) and others will be used as evacuation centers there will be a need to provide temporary learning spaces and gradually repair or rebuild some of the schools.

PLANNED ACTIVITIES TO BE CARRIED OUT IMMEDIATELY

  1. Provision of emergency shelter materials and essential household items (sleeping kit and shelter grade tarpaulins) for the most vulnerable and affected households.
  2. Provision of food packs and food supplies that may last for weeks.
  3. Medical Mission and Psycho Social Support and Intervention
  4. Distribute water containers and drinking water including water for cooking , bathing , and for santitation, hygiene kits/ tolilets
  5. Monitoring, assessment and Planning
  6. Coordination and linkages with KLIMA (Kutabato Local Initiatives and Multi-Sectoral Action) for the Environment, a network of ecology advocates representing various churches, civil society organizations, media, academe, government line agencies and local officials committed to coordinate and monitor local efforts towards the protection, restoration and preservation of the remaining natural resources, organized 13th of October 2019 initiated by the Diocese of Kidapawan in partnership with ICON-SP as secretariat.

LONG TERM INTERVENTION

To be planned out after the monitoring and assessment with partners (from affected areas and KLIMA) has been done.

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