Philippines typhoon survivors wish Christmas rooftops and food

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Alegria (Philippines) (AFP) – Father Ricardo Virtudazo stands in a pool of water at his typhoon-hit church in the southern Philippines, offering Christmas Day Mass to dozens of worshipers whose wishes this year were new roofs, food and good weather.

More than a week after Typhoon Rai swept through the archipelago, killing nearly 400 people and leaving hundreds of thousands homeless, survivors clung to their families and their faith after their homes – and the planned festivities – have been wiped out.

“What is important is that we are all safe,” said Joy Parera, 31, attending Christmas mass with her husband at the parish church of San Isidro Labrador in the town of Alegria, at the northern tip of the island of Mindanao.

Light rain soaked the pews and white tiled floor of the damaged church, which left a gaping hole in the roof after Rai ravaged the area.

Worshipers wore masks as they gathered inside the church adorned with Christmas decorations and prayed for a better year.

“We still have hope,” Virtudazo told AFP.

“Despite the calamities they endure, they still have faith in God.”

Christmas is one of the most important events on the Christian calendar, and in the predominantly Catholic Philippines, families usually get together to share a meal.

But widespread destruction caused by Rai in parts of the south and center of the country has dampened the celebrations as many survivors plead for clean water and food.

The islands of Mindanao, Siargao, Dinagat and Bohol are among the most devastated by the storm, which cut electricity, ripped roofs, shredded wooden buildings, knocked down concrete utility poles and uprooted trees.

The scale of the damage, the lack of a mobile phone or internet signal in many areas, and the exhaustion of government coffers after the Covid-19 response have hampered aid distribution efforts.

“We will manage with spaghetti”

Nardel Vicente said his Christmas wish was for someone to help him buy a new roof for his house in Alegria after the Rai sinking, which hit the country on December 16 like a super typhoon.

Without a job and with little money to spend, Vicente said his family would not be able to cook a festive meal this year.

“In previous years we had spaghetti, pork, chicken – whatever we could afford between ourselves,” said the 38-year-old.

But he added: “It’s okay, we’re alive. Better than welcoming Christmas with a loved one who has passed away.”

Marites Sotis usually serves meat, spring rolls and salad for his family.

“We won’t have any this year because they are very expensive,” Sotis, 53, told AFP in the coastal municipality of Placer where the storm knocked down most of her family’s coconut trees.

“We’ll make do with spaghetti.”

Some survivors from nearby Surigao town stood on the roads for days begging for money and food from passing motorists after failing to receive some government assistance.

Inaga Edulzura, 41, said she hoped to get a package of spaghetti to cook for her family. Otherwise, they would be “content with sliced ​​bread.”

“Our only request is that the weather be nice on Christmas Day to cheer us up,” she told AFP.

“That and food.”


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