EVERY one in Yolanda-ravaged Tacloban is anticipating the announced visit of Pope Francis in January.
Nearly a year after the devastation wrought by super-typhoon Yolanda, Tacloban is definitely on the on the rise again with its people showing commitment and leadership in the city’s recovery.
Tacloban City Mayor Alfred Romualdez who, with his wife Councilor Cristina Gonzales Romualdez, met on Aug. 21 with members of the movie press at Patio Victoria in Intramuros, Manila said, “Yolanda did not devastate the spirit and the hearts of Taclobanons. With the grace of God, Tacloban and our people are on the rise again,”
He said Taclobanons and the rest of Eastern Visayas are also thankful Pope Francis is coming to Tacloban in January next year.
While in his short visit in Tacloban, the Pope will celebrate the Holy Mass on the ramp of Daniel Z., Romualdez Airport and meet later with the poor.
Romualdez said the city government is focused on relocating close to 1,000 families still living in tents to transitional shelters and putting up all those who lost homes in the danger zones into permanent homes in new townships in the northern part of the city.
To do this, Romualdez said, the permanent homes would be built for close to 6,000 families who lived in areas near the sea and other parts of the city that could be inundated by water in case another Yolanda-like typhoon hits the province.
He said the city government is already acquiring the lands through purchase or expropriation for relocation to transitional shelters with the aid of international agencies. He has given the government a timeline and they must transfer the close to 1,000 families still living in tents by the first anniversary of Yolanda on Nov. 8. He expressed hope the government would fulfill its commitment to purchase more land so the permanent resettlement sites could be completed at the soonest time.
“No one will be left behind,” Romualdez stressed.
The new townships will be complete with water supply, electricity, schools, markets and livelihood. lnternational agencies and government offices involved in livelihood development are being tapped to provide assistance and grants to ensure the relocated families will have livelihood through organic farming, fisheries and other income generating activities.
“Leaving no one behind means making sure the people’s lives become better,” Romualdez added.
Romualdez has his wife Cristina by his side. She has been named Ambassador of Habitat for Humanity. As the First Lady of Tacloban and a City Councilor, Cristina Gonzales-Romualdez has put herself into action immediately after Yolanda’s devastation by helping in the recovery efforts through the promotion of livelihood for women and young folk, mainly through Cristina’s Learn and Earn Program (CLEP) and the building of shelters.
Before Yolanda, Tacloban had been declared a highly urbanized city. It was also at the forefront of Eastern Visayas’ campaign in encouraging more factories and business to locate there to supply the province and the rest of the nation with consumer products and services.
Yolanda is the strongest typhoon to hit land in recorded history, destroying close to 55,000 homes in Tacloban City alone, killing almost 3,000 people with still 700 unaccounted for.
The typhoon flattened the entire city and neighboring towns and provinces with its 374 kilometers per hour in wind speed.
Yolanda hit Tacloban City and surrounding areas with such devastating force that it triggered a tsunami-like storm surge that forced up to seven meters of sea water up into the city’s streets, waters that surged in three waves of five feet to seven meters and stayed that way for two hours.
Mayor Romualdez, on the other hand, was on Ground Zero when the typhoon hit at about 7 a.m.—five hours earlier than forecast—as he had gone to a beachfront in the city’s San Jose District to verify a report he received in a text message that the sea waters of San Pedro Bay had started to recede. When the storm surge hit, he and the men with him survived by going up the ceiling of a seaside building and clinging on the trusses for two hours.
His wife Cristina and their two daughters—Sofia, 14, and Diana, 10—also went through a harrowing experience, as the storm surge caught the three of them in their car as they were preparing to evacuate.
Romualdez had stopped them from leaving their house when the waters of San Pedro Bay receded because of the extreme force of the hurricane-like winds, when the storm surge suddenly came and engulfed their vehicle.
Cristina and her daughters miraculously managed to escape from the car, with the mother and Diana clinging on to the ceiling of guest quarters in front of their house, while Sofia was swept by the strong waves, but survived by clinging to a cement post and climbing to the ceiling of a nearby one-story building. The family’s companions were swept to the sea but survived by swimming to the Astrodome, and were the ones who told other Taclobanons in tears that they feared Cristina and her daughters had died because they were last seen on board their car.
“What we in Tacloban and the nearby areas went through should teach us to prepare, and because of this I am proposing the establishment of a permanent government agency that will be operating 24/7 365 days a year unlike the NDRRMC (National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council) which convenes only three days before any potential typhoon occurs,” he said. “We also need to be build stronger, and be prepared for anything, because Yolanda is already the new normal, and we cannot afford a repeat of the devastation it created,” Romaldez said.
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