Memorial service offered for ‘Sendong’ victims; tragedy continues to haunt survivors

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/ 02 November)- A memorial service was offered on All Saints’ Day (November 1) for the hundreds of people who died from the tragedy brought by tropical storm Sendong, which continues to haunt survivors eleven months after it struck them.


Sendong was the most destructive tropical storm that devastated Cagayan de Oro and Iligan cities on December 17, 2011.


Holding lighted candles, at least a hundred survivors and their friends walked in silence the one-kilometer distance from Rodelsa Rotunda to Sitio Cala-cala in Barangay Macasandig late Thursday afternoon as part of the memorial service.


Msgr. Eutiquiano M. Legitimas said a mass was celebrated in Sitio Cala-cala later Thursday evening and another mass Friday morning in the same place. Cala-cala, an urban poor community, was wiped out completely by Sendong.


Eleven months after Sendong struck and killed at least 1,200 people in Cagayan de Oro and Iligan cities, those who survived still vividly recall the fateful moments when the Cagayan de Oro River swelled, its waters crashing into their homes.


“This is my house. This is what is left of my two-storey house,” 56-year old Erineo Opiana said, pointing to a small patch of marble floor now surrounded by cogon grasses.


“That concrete floor belongs to my neighbor, Paul Shutton. He and his family were never found. I think they are still buried somewhere,” he added.


Opiana recalled that his three grandchildren were sleeping at their sala when they heard hysterical cries amid the rushing floodwaters.


When he looked out from the second floor of his house, Opiana said he saw a huge wall of water smashing into his neighbor’s house.


Opiana said he later saw a big dump truck carried by the rushing waters racing towards his house.


“My entire house collapsed when the truck struck. There was no time to gather my family,” narrated Opiana, who lost his three grandchildren.


Opiana said he was carried away by the flood all the way to the coast off Iligan City, where he and 127 other Cagayan de Oro residents were picked up by a passing ship.


At the Cagayan de Oro public cemetery in Sitio Bolonsiri, Baragay Camaman-an, 59-year-old Alice Nillos lighted a candle at a big cross beside the unmarked vault where the unclaimed and unidentified Sendong victims were buried.


Nillos said the candles were for her niece, Jingjing Palma, her husband Dodo, and their seven-year old son.


She said that Jingjing’s dead body was found on the second day stuck to a floating tree in the Cagayan de Oro River, but Dodo and the child still remained missing to this day.


“Maybe they are inside the vault and maybe they are not. Just the same, I light candles and say prayers for their souls,” she said.


Nillos said she made it a habit to light a candle every 17th of the month because she is the only relative of Jingjing. (Froilan Gallardo/MindaNews)