On the night of December 16, 2011 (Friday), just before midnight, an event occurred in Cagayan de Oro that changed the way we look at Philippine weather cycles. It was an experience so unexpected, so unprecedented and so disastrous that whenever it rains now, we fear a repeat of the catastrophe that wiped out more than 1,000 homes and left thousands missing or dead and even more homeless. This was the tragedy of Sendong.
Today, barely two months after the fact, we look back and try to trace how far the city and its people have come on its journey to recovery:
December 17 (Saturday) – In the wee hours of the morning just as floodwaters were rising, people from all over the world began calling for help to search for missing family members. The Cagayan River had swollen so much that residents had had to climb to the roofs of their homes just to escape the raging water and to stay alive, leaving behind their cellphones, computers, money, clothes and other valuables. Rescue operations continued well through the night and into the following days. Xavier University was one of the first (that I knew of) to open a relief center. Relief goods in the form of used clothing and food began pouring in. The main water pipe supplying the city’s drinking water had burst, creating a cry for life so loud that companies like Pepsi Cola and Rainsoft opened their water supplies to the Sendong victims.
December 19 (Monday) – Christmas Parties all over the region were being cancelled and the budgeted money donated for relief operations. Everyone wanted to help, especially those who were not affected by the floods. It was also heartwarming to see survivors helping out, saying they felt somewhat guilty because they had been spared. There were news reports that several children had been rescued from the sea, in Jasaan, Balingasag and Camiguin, having held on to logs and animals and been carried out to sea. A water treatment facility of Manila Water had been set up at the Kagay-an Bridge to provide free potable water to anyone who had a container.
December 21 (Wednesday) – Since there was little or no water, how could the evacuees cook the raw food they were receiving from the relief centers? As another means of helping, feeding programs were put up – one such was the Oplan Pancit Feeding Program, that cooked the pancit and drove from one evacuation center to the next, delivering delicious, hot, ready-to-eat meals.
December 24 (Saturday) – Christmas Eve and the supermarkets were packed with families buying supplies for the much-awaited Noche Buena. Some of these families spent their Christmas at the evacuation centers, sharing their blessings with the people who had lost theirs.
December 30 (Friday) – Groundbreaking ceremonies were held at the first relocation site in Lumbia, facilitated by Xavier University, Philippine National Red Cross and other agencies.
January 2 (Sunday) – Relief operations were developing into data-gathering and clean-up drives. There was still so much work to do.
January 4 (Tuesday) – Shelterbox, an international disaster relief charity, arrived in CDO and began facilitating the transfer of hundreds of evacuees to tents set up on government properties all over the city. At the same time, ONE CDO, an association made up mostly of mountaineers and river advocates, began its “Limpyo Cagayan” drive – a purely-voluntary movement that planned to visit all the areas damaged by the flood and clean them up for a better-looking and disease-free city.
January 5 (Wednesday) – Department of Tourism Region 10 (DOT10) Director Catalino E. Chan III released some good news in a Travel Advisory: “This is to inform the traveling public that starting January 5, 2012, the White Water Rafting Adventure activities in Cagayan de Oro City are now fully operational. Guests can now enjoy the thrill and excitement of this major river activity. The Oro Rafters Association (OAR), the official organization of White Water Rafters in the city already conducted clearing operations along the riverbanks and the tributary bodies of water within the course covered by their operations. Logs, debris and other objects that could possibly harm the guests have been removed. (Next paragraph) All major road networks in the city are generally passable. Public transportation is available; sea and air transportation are fully operational. Hotels and other tourism-related establishments are likewise in full operation despite the scarcity of water due to Typhoon Sendong.”
January 7 (Friday) – With classes opening once again, came the realization that hundreds of grade school and high school students, both in the public and private schools, were without school supplies. An immediate drive was formed by the Coalition for Better Education, soliciting cash for the purchase of much needed learning kits, which included: an ecobag, a plastic envelope, art paper, pad paper, notebooks, scissors, a ruler, pens or pencils, crayons and a face towel.
January 15 (Sunday) – Rise CDO & Iligan, a talent show hosted by Gaisano Mall, with the cooperation of the CDO Talent Center, was held to raise funds and raise hopes. It was time for the two cities to move forward, from grieving and regretting, to recovery and progress.
January 16 (Monday) – The Department of Tourism Region 10 hosted a forum to discuss possibilities in Disaster Tourism. Together with several other tourism stakeholders in CDO – the hotels and restaurants, the travel agencies and tours operators, and the tour guides – representatives from the Department of Health and Save a River Life Saver Foundation, they were able to come up with optional tours that would allow tourists to help with relief operations if they wished.
January 20 (Friday) – Carlos Celdran, the performer behind the famous Intramuros Walking Tour, arrived in CDO City. He and his friends toured the sights — Camiguin, Iligan, Bukidnon and the city. Apparently, from his Facebook posts, they enjoyed themselves to the max and even went out of their way to lend a helping hand to One CDO.
January 23 (Monday) – “If you give man fish, he will eat for a day. If you teach man how to fish, he will eat for a lifetime.” –Chinese Proverb. The Oro Chamber of Commerce, along with the Elmer Francisco Foundation, started giving away small scale micro business packages to those survivors who were looking for work.
February 9 (Wednesday) – The Liga ng Barangays, together with Gaisano Malls and other tourism advocates, has come up with a calendar of CDO events for the whole year, that are designed to entice tourists to put CDO as a destination on their lists once again.
TODAY, relief operations are still ongoing as many families are yet to be relocated to the various tent cities being put up and developed. Life and everyday activities have practically returned to normal for 90% of the city. The only remaining industry still trying to get back on its feet, because unfortunately, it was the hardest hit by this calamity, is tourism. Though we who are from here feel that things are back to normal, it is difficult to convince those planning to visit that they have nothing to worry about, perhaps because they feel awkward “enjoying themselves while others are in distress.” But let us not be depressed by this bit of news,because “when there is adversity, what follows is always prosperity.”
My all-time favorite quote: “If God brings you to it, He will bring you through it.” We may not see it, we may not feel it, we may not even sense it… but a Miracle is happening in CDO right now. Let us rejoice in it!