An unlikely place for a graveyard

Ferdinand Lomuntag and his wife Donna light a candle on a small vacant lot along an intersection at the Maharlika Highway in Barangay Calogcog in Tanauan town, Leyte on 24 Nov 2013. The lot is a mass grave containing 50 Typhoon Yolanda victims, including Donna’s mother, 12 nephews and nieces, 2 in-laws and a grandchild. MindaNews photo by Froilan Gallardo
Ferdinand Lomuntag and his wife Donna light a candle on a small vacant lot along an intersection at the Maharlika Highway in Barangay Calogcog in Tanauan town, Leyte on 24 Nov 2013. The lot is a mass grave containing 50 Typhoon Yolanda victims, including Donna’s mother, 12 nephews and nieces, 2 in-laws and a grandchild. MindaNews photo by Froilan Gallardo

TANAUAN, Leyte (MindaNews / 1 Dec) – It was an unlikely place for a graveyard: a small vacant lot in an intersection along the Maharlika Highway and a small road going nowhere in this municipality only 15 kilometers south of Tacloban City.

Authorities have buried 50 victims of super Typhoon Yolanda in the small plot of land because their bodies were already decomposing and the stench have become so unbearable.

“My mother, 12 nephews and nieces, 2 in-laws and a grandson are all buried here,” Tanauan resident Donna Lomuntag said, pointing to the mound of earth.

Lomuntag said almost all of her family died when freak storm surge waves tore into Barangay Calogcog and the rest of Tanauan town in the morning of Nov. 8.

She and her husband Ferdinand survived because they were visiting a relative in nearby Baybay City in Leyte when Typhoon Yolanda struck.

A bigger mass grave for 300 typhoon victims is located in front of a church here.

As relayed to him by neighbors who survived, Ferdinand said waves as high as a two-story building crashed into Tanauan, destroying homes and buildings along the way.

“The waves came in three successions. My neighbors said many survived the first wave, only to drown when the next two waves came. Our relatives had nowhere to go. Had they gone to the roof, they would have been blown away by Yolanda’s powerful winds,” Ferdinand narrated.

The National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council (NDRRMC), as of  December 1, raised the number of dead to 5,632 since the super typhoon laid waste on Leyte province and other parts of the Visayas.

The NDRRMC also reported that 1,579 persons remain missing while doctors and nurses treated 26,153 people for typhoon-related injuries.

Yolanda, described as one of the strongest typhoons recorded in history, hit Leyte and most of the Visayas with 315 kph winds. Storm surges as high as five to six meters swamped Tacloban City and the nearby towns of Palo and Tanauan.

While Donna and her husband are still trying to cope with their loss, the flow of relief assistance has finally reached even the isolated villages in Leyte and the rest of the Visayas.

Tito Alex Besinga, Gawad Kalinga coordinator in Cagayan de Oro City, said he could not believe what he saw when their convoy of relief trucks finally reached Tacloban City last week.

“From houses to buildings, signboards to trees, all were flattened to the ground. Typhoon Yolanda’s powerful winds were simply too much,” Besinga said.

Besinga and his team is part of an all-out national effort by Gawad Kalinga to send relief goods and evaluate the housing requirements in the typhoon-devastated areas.

The effort include a 10-truck convoy sent by Bukidnon municipal governments and a smaller convoy sent by the Misamis Oriental provincial government.

Besinga said it will take many years and new housing technology to rebuild the houses destroyed by the powerful winds of typhoon Yolanda.

“We noticed that houses and buildings with corrugated color roof sheets were all destroyed compared to those with the older GI sheets. That is worth studying,” he said.

The government has announced it has allocated P41 billion for housing, infrastructure, livelihood and employment generation in the typhoon-devastated areas.

After a bumpy start in the relief assistance three weeks ago, relief aid from the government, non-governmental organizations and foreign countries have reached far-flung villages in Leyte.

Still, signs like “S.O.S. we need food” and “ Pls Help Us” still abound along the 100-kilometer highway between Ormoc and Tacloban cities.

Philippine Air Force Huey helicopters have been conducting fast-drops in towns and villages that are still unreachable by trucks and vehicles.

In the municipality of Barugo, Leyte, an Air Force Huey flew four sorties a day to drop relief supplies in front  of the battered town church and town hall last week.

For each sortie, the lone Huey helicopter delivered 10 relief bags containing 10 food packs each.

The helicopter delivered a total of 40 bags or 400 food packs, enough to feed 400 persons. The fourth-class municipality of Barugo has a population of 30,092.

Lt. Col. Julian Pacatan, chief of the Army’s Task Force Diamond, said because of the smaller load limits of the helicopters, Army engineers are trying their best to clear roads of fallen trees, electric poles and other debris.

The Task Force Diamond from Cagayan de Oro and the Task Force Aguila from Davao were sent by the Armed Forces’ Eastern Mindanao Command to help in the relief efforts in Leyte two weeks ago.

Pacatan said they have already cleared  many  of the roads leading to the mountain villages from the town of Albuera to Ormoc City.

But Capt. Ronnie Balasabos, of the Army Engineers, had to leave his work last week to go to his wife who was on vacation with her parents in Palo when typhoon Yolanda struck.

Although the house of  his in-laws was spared, Balasabos said he had to see if his wife was okay.

After sending her back to Manila in a plane, Balasabos came back to Albuera town and headed a team to deliver relief supplies in the hinterland village of Salvacion.

Albuera town resident Renato Rubillos said although life has slowly returned to the town two weeks after Yolanda, he noted that prices of building materials have gone up as residents start to repair their damaged homes.

“A GI corrugated sheet now sells at P450, when it was only P370 before Yolanda,” Rubillos said.

Bonita Juanillo, a store owner, did not mind the rising prices as she directs a carpenter to fix the roof of her establishment.

“What is important for me is I did not lose a member of my family. Material things we can recover later, but we can not bring back a life,” she said.

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