By Laura Sheahen
“The wind started breaking the windows in our convent, so the three of us hid in the bathroom.”
Sister Tess Cordoza has lived in the Philippine town of Ilagan all her life, but never experienced a typhoon like Juan. “My heart was pounding.”
In the same town, Father Anthonio Ancheta was watching parts of his church’s roof being ripped off. Why did he go outside then? “I was worried the other church buildings would be hit too.”
Inside St. Matthias’ church in nearby Timauini, green leaves stick to the wet floor. The leaves were whirled in through the gaping hole in the roof.
“It is, as you put it, ‘gone with the wind,’” says the pastor, Father Florman Cabauatan, ruefully gazing upward at beams dangling from the hole. “If they declare the church unsafe, I can’t say Mass here.”
Wind damage, rather than flooding, is the primary concern in this area of the Philippines two days after powerful Typhoon Juan (called Megi internationally) struck. Huge trees were uprooted or split down the middle, crashing into roofs and gardens. Falling branches flew everywhere; electrical poles slanted or fell; windows shattered; and smaller houses’ roofs flew off entirely.
Catholic Relief Services is working with local dioceses and with Caritas to assess damage and learn what people need most. The Philippine government is providing food, but repairing houses so that they’re livable will take a more concerted effort.
Ilagan and Timauini were in the direct path of the typhoon, and suffered some of the worst damage. “This was the eye of the storm,” says Father Florman. “It was like a Marine onslaught.” Other residents reach for metaphors: “It was like a bulldozer, the way it pulled up trees.” “It was like a jackhammer.”
Filipinos here are thankful there was almost no loss of life. “We were lucky it happened in the afternoon,” says Father Florman. “Can you imagine if it had happened at night?” But early estimates are that 170,000 people in the area are affected, with thousands of homes partially or totally destroyed. “For some people,” says Angel Luga, a parishioner of Father Antonio’s, “it was as if their house was erased.”
For the first 48 hours after the storm, families stayed in government evacuation centers like school auditoriums. In the Timauini center, a dozen women and their children wait while husbands check on their house damage. “Our roof flew away,” says one mother. Anyone else? Ten other women nod.
Meanwhile, Catholics in the country rely on their faith as they deal with the storm’s aftermath. “I still thank the Lord,” says Angel Luga, “because he drew near.”
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