11/07/2019, 15.31
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North Cotabato hit by tragic earthquakes

by Peter Geremia

Fr Peter Geremia, an 80-year-old PIME missionary, is involved in relief operations. Yesterday he carried out a first medical mission at an evacuation centre in Makilala, one of the cities most affected by the seismic swarm in late October. He writes: “We pray that God may give us the strength and determination to reach out to many of our people who are struggling to survive.”

Kidapawan (AsiaNews) – The people of Kidapawan (North Cotabato) and surrounding municipalities are in desperate need of help following the recent seismic swarm that struck the region. As a result, at least 22 people have been killed, hundreds wounded and over 24,000 displaced.

Fr Peter Geremia, 80, is a local missionary with the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME), and heads the Network for Solidarity and Peace (ICON-SP), a local intercultural organisation.

As of now November 6, aftershocks keep us ready to run out from houses or buildings carrying our most important survival needs. We are preparing for a long-term rehabilitation process which may last for months or even years,’ writes the clergyman.

Here is how he describes the scary moments he experienced during and after the quakes.

October 16, 2019 our Bishop and all the clergy and a large crowd gathered for the dedication of the Kidapawan Cathedral which was renovated with paintings, stained glasses and a magnificent display of Saints like a vision of heaven. After a very long ceremony, many people stayed inside for picture taking. Suddenly around 7 pm, a 6.3 earthquake struck and sent all running out from the church in panic. It was a kind of minor miracle that no one was crushed or stepped upon…

October 29, 2019 at 9 in the morning, we were struck again by a stronger shock magnitude 6.6. I was inside the ICON-SP building which was shaking like a drunk giant about to collapse. A group of tribal women were practicing dressmaking and we were all forced to run out and find shelter under the trees. The participants in the activity hurried to their homes worried about their families. Many aftershocks followed.

On October 31, 2019 the clergy and the Bishop and some brave faithful people gathered at the diocese for the celebration of the Day of Martyrs. Again around 9 in the morning, a third shock still stronger than the previous ones forced us to take cover again under the trees by the cemetery. There we held our solemn Mass remembering the Martyrs, praying for their protection from calamities. Many felt that Mother Nature is very angry at us.

Since then many aftershocks, many houses collapsed or showed cracks and many people feel afraid of staying inside the houses and sleep outside even if it rains… The tallest hotel in Kidapawan city fell to its knees and could not stand up again because the first floor collapsed and the building may fall apart anytime. Hospitals evacuated their patients outside, schools closed and most stores and even some churches also closed temporarily. Huge landslides appeared around Mt. Apo like open wounds. Several communities were forced to evacuate and were advised to abandon their houses permanently in view of relocation to safer areas. Thousands of people took shelter in evacuation centers waiting for help. 

Local authorities in the 19 municipalities in our Province and also our Bishop and priests and all our parishes mobilized people to provide assistance. Drinking water, food supplies, tents, clothing, etc. were brought to the convention hall of the diocese and distributions were implemented quickly. Many volunteers and various groups from all over the country also joined the relief operation. However as of now we are still preparing for medical missions in many evacuation centers and for people sleeping outdoors.

On November 2, 2019 I went to a very remote village in Arakan for the burial of 2 brothers who died under a rain of stones on October 31. The older brother, Angelo Andy, 22, with a 2-year-old son on his back as the tribals are accustomed to carry their children, and a younger brother 7 years old. Without any warning, a rain of stones came down from the mountain. Then the rescuers found the older brother embracing the younger one, both dead, while the little child was thrown a bit far from the 2, he was still alive and is now at the hospital hoping that he may survive.

Many people gathered around the two dead bodies. I prayed that the example of the older brother who tried to save his younger brother may inspire us to help each other in this time of calamity. I prayed for the child who survived, who represents all survivors who are now struggling to overcome the effects of the earthquakes. That area is still considered a critical area where NPA rebels and the Bagani or Tribal warriors under the military have been fighting recently. I prayed that the two dead brothers and the little survivor may inspire us all to unite for peace and for the protection of all.

On November 6, we conducted an initial medical mission at an evacuation center in Makilala. A volunteer doctor and our health team from Arakan were able to prepare emergency medicines and were able to start this first Medical Mission. Because of some difficulties in coordinating with some local authorities, the activity started in the afternoon and ended when it was dark. Because of so many patients, we will continue to conduct medical missions in the following days not only in evacuation centers but also in the remote areas where people are clustered under the trees, near the landslides or where they can keep some of their animals.

During the medical mission, I was shocked by the stories about so many victims buried under the landslides. One mother mentioned that on October 29, four tappers, including 1 of her sons, were working in the rubber plantation when suddenly all four were buried under the landslides and the rubber plantation disappeared, and up to now, they were not able to recover the bodies. A neighbor mentioned that another worker was buried under the landslide but was able to struggle until he came out with many bruises all over the body. Another mentioned two motorcycles loaded with young people who went to that area to play basketball; then suddenly the two motorcycles disappeared and they heard the riders calling for help but they could not do anything. They were not yet able to identify how many were riding on those motorcycles...   

As of now November 6, aftershocks keep us ready to run out from houses or buildings carrying our most important survival needs. We are preparing for a long-term rehabilitation process which may last for months or even years. We pray that God may give us the strength and determination to reach out to many of our people who are struggling to survive. We pray also for all who help us in this time of calamity.

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