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Heavy damage makes assessment tough after Haima slams Philippines

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Heavy damage makes assessment tough after Haima slams Philippines

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. By
late Oct. 21, 13 people had been reported dead, and Haima hit southern China.

Nearly every
building in the city of Tuguegarao was damaged, Philippine media quoted
officials as saying. The city’s communication links were down Oct. 20, 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

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 teams.

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 nationwide.

“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.

Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. bishops’ international relief and
development agency, is part of the Caritas network. Matthew McGarry, country
representative, said
the “institutional knowledge” of responding and rebuilding structures and lives
since Typhoon Haiyan have helped shape its approach today.

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

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 safely.

– – –

to this story was Simone Orendain in Chicago.


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