Heavy damage makes assessment tough after Haima slams Philippines

By Alastair Wanklyn

TOKYO (CNS) — Heavy damage was
reported to homes and farm land in the northern Philippines Oct. 20 after the
strongest storm in three years struck overnight.

Typhoon Haima barreled into
northern Cagayan and Isabella provinces, ripping the roofs off homes and
flattening crops.

Nearly every building in the
city of Tuguegarao was damaged, Philippine media quoted officials as saying. The
city’s communication links were down, and phone calls to the archdiocesan
office in Tuguegarao did not connect.

Across the district, many roads
were flooded or blocked by fallen trees. Aid groups said the disruption made it
difficult to assess the extent of damage, with one aid official calling it
“a communications black hole.”

Thousands of people in
neighboring Isabella province spent the night sheltering in public evacuation
centers such as schools and churches.

“Most of the time, the
churches serve as evacuation centers if the government evacuation centers
cannot accommodate some of the people,” April Ann Abello-Bulanadi, a
spokeswoman for Catholic aid group Caritas Philippines, said by phone from

Caritas released a summary of
reports from parishes of how they had prepared for the storm.

Some of them reported holding
stocks of relief goods. One diocese said it had been giving out disaster advice
at Mass. And in one district, a church compound was designated the local relief
staging ground for emergency supplies, so that residents and aid groups alike
would know where to go.

“The parishes are very
important because they are the ones who are already present on the ground,”
Bulanadi said.

There was no estimate of the total
damage to agriculture, but northern Luzon is a center of rice and corn farming,
and the storm was feared to have wiped out crops shortly before harvest.

The day after the typhoon, Caritas
officials were expected to monitor video from a drone flown over the disaster
zone by Philippine aerial imagery startup SkyEye Analytics Inc. Such images can
identify communities that are cut off and roads that may be accessible for aid

Haima is the 12th typhoon to
strike the Philippines this year. In November 2013, Typhoon Haiyan killed at
least 6,300 people and forced around 5 million from their homes.

The humanitarian disaster
following Haiyan served as a wake-up call for authorities and residents alike.
Today, aid workers say, there is a higher alertness by state agencies and
greater willingness by residents to follow evacuation advisories.

Caritas said Haiyan also
highlighted the importance of community-led disaster risk reduction, such as
identifying safe houses and checking on neighbors.

In the three years since that
disaster, Caritas has worked to create a more coordinated readiness by the church

“Now we are trying to
include as many dioceses as possible, not just dioceses from the provinces
affected, but we are also capacitating dioceses from the other provinces, so
that they would also be prepared when such a typhoon like this would happen
again here in the Philippines,” Bulanadi said.

In January 2015, Pope Francis
paid a short visit to Tacloban, one of the cities badly hit by Typhoon Haiyan.

At Mass in the city, he paid
tribute to church and lay workers who helped those left homeless.

“To those of you who housed
and fed people seeking safety, in churches, convents, rectories, and who
continue to assist those still struggling, I thank you,” he said. “You
are a credit to the church. You are the pride of your nation.

“For whatever you did for
the least of Christ’s brothers and sisters, you did for him.”

But there was a reminder of the
Philippines’ storm-prone nature when Pope Francis cut short his visit. He said
the pilots of his plane feared worsening conditions would prevent it taking off


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