From Davao, a group of us – me and three of our parish staff from the Mother of Perpetual Help Parish along J.P. Laurel St., Bajada, Davao City – drove to Kidapawan City on Monday morning, November 4, to deliver relief goods and funds solicited from our parishioners to Bishop Colin Bagaforo at his residence in Barangay Balindong. The Diocesan Relief Operations’ Center was set up in the diocesan offices beside his residence.
As we were entering the center of the city, I noticed a signage signifying the name a restaurant – From Out Of Nowhere. I thought: what an interesting name for an eatery and how appropriate in this season of earthquakes that recently hit towns in south Mindanao. Because for most of us living in this part of the country – especially those badly hit by the repercussions of the series of earthquakes measuring on an average 6.5 magnitude and who cringed every time there was an aftershock – these disastrous moments seem to have come from out of nowhere.
But scientific facts dispute this “from-out-of-nowhere”” myth. Earthquakes do come from somewhere. At the height of this earthquake scare at the end of October, a Facebook friend sent this reading of a geologist as to what was behind the seismic-caused earthquakes: “The fault system active in these quakes is the newly named Makilala-Malungon fault. It’s part of the Mindanao fault system that extends from Sindangan all the way to Sarangani and up to Molucca Sea. These are all related to the movement of the Philippine sea plate subducting under the Philippine Trench and there is an additional subduction zone around the Molucca Sea (Halmahera-Sangihe). The faults haven’t moved in the past 10,000 years but all part for the course given our tectonic setting.”
So take note people, earthquakes arise out of somewhere which are the faults below the ground. And so sorry, there is still no way to predict when faults give rise to the earth’s movements. Which makes earthquakes far more scary than other natural disasters which can be predicted.
Passing through the center of Kidapawan City, we find ourselves face-to-face with Eva’s Hotel, the city’s landmark that has now been immortalized in a million posts in social media. Fortunately, long before the recent earthquakes the hotel has already been condemned and has not accepted guests owing to noticeable fractures in various parts of the building. So when the building collapsed during the earthquakes, no one was hurt. There are other buildings that have cracks or damages and the malls remain closed, but otherwise, the city was not so badly hit by the disasters. We made it to the Bishop’s residence and saw that the Relief Center still has stocks of food and other supplies.
Of the different cities and towns in the Cotabato-Davao regions hit by the four succeeding strong earthquakes (Magnitude 6.3 on October 16, Magnitude 6.6 and 6.1 on October 29 and Magnitude 6.5 on October 31), Makilala seems to be the worst hit. From the last barangay of Bansalan, Davao del Sur to the area around the municipal hall of Makilala, North Cotabato, we saw houses upon houses destroyed and/or damaged by the earthquakes. The main evacuation centers are those located in Barangay Malasila and the area around the municipal hall. The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) reported: “A total of 20,704 families or 103,520 individuals from the 38 barangays have been affected by the earthquake. More than 20,000 houses in the town were damaged.” The evacuees were from Barangays Kisante, Old Bulatukan and Luayon. Among them are the Lumads whose residences are at the slopes of the mountain range connecting to Mt. Apo. Along the highway one could see the landslides on the mountain side that forced them to evacuate.
Relief operations have been ongoing since after the first earthquake struck on October 16 and have been sustained for the past two weeks. At the evacuation sites, agencies such as the DSWD, the International Red Cross and other private groups were busy distributing relief goods especially food, water, shelter, medicine andtrapal (the main material used for tents). Along the road where victims remained near their homes and have not moved to the evacuation centers, the people wait for relief goods. Most of the private individuals, families, groups and associations in their own vehicles approach those camping along the road rather than join the relief operations in the evacuation centers.
After we left Makilala on our way to Magsaysay, along the highway we encountered at least seven huge trucks carrying DSWD relief operations as well as military trucks also carrying goods.
From Makilala, we covered the other areas of Davao del Sur where the Regional Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (RDRRMC) has reported a total of 2,722 families or 13,600 individuals displaced due to the earthquakes. Entering the town of Magsaysay, we saw clusters of families still sheltered in tents near their homes. The main attraction in this town is the seriously damaged new municipal hall which has been temporarily condemned. Its tall posts visible as part of the facade remain standing but most parts of this massive building are damaged. Relief operations take place in the yard opposite the hall. Passing by Matan-ao and Kiblawan on our way to Digos, we did not see too much damage wrought by the earthquakes unlike Makilala and Bansalan.
Digos is also badly hit, not so much in terms of the destruction of people’s homes but how the earthquake destroyed buildings. The one that stands out as the most dramatic are the buildings inside Cor Jesu College, two of which will have to be dismantled completely. But the other buildings also need to be repaired as there are noticeable cracks on the walls. Across the city there are buildings that show fractures and malls remain closed. As damages are suffered by mainly businessmen, relief operations are not as massive as those in Makilala. Lastly, Davao City did not experience too much destruction, except for a high-end condominium’s lower floors that collapsed and is now condemned.
We surmised that with the national and local government’s relief assistance, supplemented by those of civil society (IRC, NGOs, schools, church groups, families and individuals) there may still be enough to assist the evacuees in terms of their urgent needs. Still, if there are those who still plan to go and assist them, the best relief assistance for now are food that can be immediately eaten (as cooking facilities are still quite limited) and water. But depending on how soon the evacuees can return home, so also the need to sustain the availability of relief operations. As per experience in previous disasters, the problem is when evacuees cannot return home as quickly as possible and thus relief operations need to be sustained in the long haul.
Returning home for most of those in the evacuation centers depend on how much help they can secure to rebuild their homes, no matter how modest these are so long as they can already be lived in. This is true for the Lumads whose homes are affected by the landslides; new sites will have to be identified where the new houses could be built. Meanwhile, there is still need to assess how much trauma-healing sessions the evacuees still need especially for the children..
It has been less than a week after the last strong earthquake and there are still those who would not trust sleeping in their houses and continue to spend the night in tents. Business has taken a beating as malls and big stores have been forced to close or to shorten their store hours as the usual crowds have thinned out. As many schools have been damaged, the classes of pupils and students have been disrupted. For most of the people, the return to normalcy has been slow.
But as we take stock of the tragic figures reported by the NDRRMC – 22 dead, 424 injured, 37,706 families or more than 188,000 people affected with 4,800 families or 24,000 persons taking shelter in 34 evacuation centers – we pray that these natural disasters end so we no longer have to live in fear of what will happen next. We storm the heavens with this prayer: That please, no more tragic disasters especially those that come out of nowhere!