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Dealing With Disasters
Real people talk about the pain of losing their homes and loved ones in the country's worst natural calamities.
photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Entertainment

Natural calamities hit all the time with little or no warning. They take lives and leave people wondering if there was anything they could have done to avert the tragedy. Though they are considered a normal part of life, natural disasters often leave death, destruction, and sadness in their wake.

Left Without a Home

Almost every year during the rainy season, homes and entire provinces are ravaged by floods and landslides. Just last year, typhoon Milenyo took dozens of lives and left Luzon in a blackout. A few months later, typhoon Reming released its fury on the Bicol region. "The battering lasted for 12 hours in our town of San Fernando, Camarines Sur," shares Deacon Stan Lee of the Christian Life Community in Bicol.  "I am sure everyone was saying the prayer of the desperate: ‘Tama na, Lord!'"

He compares their surroundings after the typhoon to a war zone. "Trees ripped apart, crushed houses and buildings, electric posts and power lines cut down like play sticks-the whole scene was unbelievable. Our chapel completely collapsed and many of our CLC members lost their homes. In Albay province, there were more than a thousand deaths because of the mudslides from Mayon Volcano. In Rapu-Rapu Island, a priest friend told me that their church and convent lost their roofs and 95% of the population was left homeless!"

Untimely Birthday Celebration

On July 16, 1990, a killer earthquake unexpectedly hit Baguio City and destroyed buildings, hotels, and homes. It registered a 7.7 on the Richter scale (a milder quake registers a 4.0 to 4.9) and lasted 45 seconds.

Haze Romawac lived in Baguio when the earthquake hit. "I was five years old, turning six the next day. My uncle picked me up from school earlier than usual. We used to get a jeep ride home on

Leonard Wood Bridge, but as we waited, trees started to shake and fall, cars crashed into sidewalks, and roads cracked up as if a monster was going to come out. The shaking was so intense that we decided to run home. My brother JV was sitting on our porch, on the brink of tears because nobody was home. My mom was at my grandparents' house baking brownies for my birthday, and when the city shook, she rushed to pick up my older sister from school. My eldest brother was somewhere on Session Road while my dad was out of the country. I thought I would never see them again.

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"We had no food because no stores were open," Haze remembers. "Houses were destroyed, buildings were slanted, and roads were impassable. We had no school and no electricity." An estimated 1,000 people died in the Baguio earthquake, one of the biggest tragedies in Philippine history.

A Dark Christmas

A calamity doesn't have to kill hundreds of people to be a tragedy. All it takes is one. Toff de Venecia, 19, suffered a loss on December 17, 2004, when a fire-started by unattended Christmas lights that had been on for too long-erupted in his house. Besides extensive damage to the second floor of their house, Toff lost his younger sister, KC.

"I lost my best friend to the fire," says Toff. "Our family had gone through political defeat and other family crises, but nothing was as painful as losing a member of our family. Though I've learned to move on, the pain never really goes away."

Toff feels that things will never be the same after KC's death. "It's like a nightmare you're trying to escape. You ask yourself if you could have done something to change what had happened. You blame yourself for not being able to do anything, and you get consumed with sadness and regret for not having hugged or kissed her enough before she passed away."

How to Deal

No matter how much time has passed, it is difficult to deal with loss, especially one that includes a death in the family. "You just have to be comforted by remembering that she now lies with angels," says Toff. He also tries to honor his sister's memory by remembering what they shared. "I am thankful for all the doors she's opened for me such as theater, journalism, and heading her foundation."

Haze deals by trying to see the good that came out of that trying time. "I guess that event is one major reason why our family is close. We have to know where each family member is and how everyone is doing. My best friend's mother died in the Hyatt Hotel during the earthquake. What can be more devastating than losing your mom? I feel blessed that even if we didn't have food to eat and our house was destroyed, we are all alive and still together."

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Meanwhile, Deacon Stan is heartened by the generosity of people from all over the country in the wake of tragedy. "Thanks to everyone who donated, we were able to distribute relief goods and share building materials after the typhoon hit. It's good to know that there are so many kindhearted people who are always willing to share what they have with others." 

Helping Hand

Here's what you can do for victims of natural calamities.

If you want to help victims of typhoons, earthquakes, and other natural disasters, you can participate in food or clothing drives. Local parishes and schools usually organize these.

It takes a long time for victims to recover from these events. You can call The Philippine National Red Cross at 527-0000 to find out how to help or volunteer.

Haze says you can avoid becoming a victim by knowing what to do when disaster strikes. "It would be a big help if one learns first aid. During an earthquake, stay CALM. If you're inside, stay away from windows and hide under hard furniture, such as tables. If you're outside, go to an area where nothing will fall on you, such as an open field. Don't use elevators-stairs are always better!"

If a friend of yours has lost a loved one, Toff says the best thing you can do is just be there for her. "Be a shoulder to cry on when depression hits, and be a willing ear if she needs to talk. It might be all she can talk about, but if you really love your friend, you'll stand by her no matter what. Continuous recounting of a tragedy leads to acceptance, and by simply being there, you'll help her move on."

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About the author
Angel Constantino Aquino
Former Managing Editor, Candy
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About the author
Bea Atienza
Contributing Writer
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