There are many stories of flood victims weaving through evacuation centers and temporary relocation sites after flashfloods triggered by tropical storm Washi (the storm is called “Sendong” in the Philippines) swept through low-lying areas of Cagayan de Oro in the Philippines. Stories of the youngest casualties stand out.
Glejen Ting, 20, and her mother Nida Go, 40, sit on a gently sloping hillside, resting in the shade and breezes that were scarce in their first evacuation site after tropical storm Washi. Their faces reflect the long days and noisy, restless nights after their home was washed out to sea. They’re relieved to be in a new, more open site, but as each hot day passes, the reality of their loss becomes a heavier burden. They are grieving the death of Glejen’s first baby and Nida’s first grandchild, Jharrly Jean. The bright eyed 14-month-old girl delighted her parents, grandparents, and aunts and uncles. Now the whole family waits to see if they will have a chance to properly say their goodbyes.
Nida described her family’s scramble for high ground as the flashflood took her neighborhood by surprise. “When we heard the neighbors’ shouting about the flood, we climbed on a roof. When the water moved higher, we thought the tree near our home would be best. But there were too many people in the tree, and it broke beneath us.”
She brushed her hair away from the sweat beading on her forehead with each pause for translation in her story. Glejen was silent as her mother spoke, but her lowered head didn’t hide her reddening eyes and trembling chin.
“The only place we could reach was our neighbor’s home. We were so afraid. The water rushed inside. And then – crash! A big truck was swept against the house. The walls collapsed. The roof fell. It killed my grandchild Jharrly instantly, but I didn’t have time to cry. We all swam up and out of the smashed house. I still held Jharrly. I wouldn’t let her go. I hit many things in the water but I held on to her. Then I slammed into a bridge so hard I couldn’t hold on any longer. My head was spinning, but my arms looked for her. She was already gone.”
In the midst of their grief, Jharrly’s family is trying to pick up the pieces of their life. For now, their only shelter is a tent. But CRS is providing water to Nida and Glejen’s family and to their neighbors. Clean water is such a simple thing compared to the enormity of the family’s loss. But safe water and hygiene training are helping keep them healthy. They don’t have to make a choice between purchasing bottled water and risking sickness with each sip or meal. And being able to bathe, even with buckets and ladles, brings relief from the heat for a time. Staying healthy means staying physically strong, allowing them to cook, care for neighbors, and plan how they will rebuild a home as they grapple with the tragedy brought by the storm.
When asked how she was coping with the loss of her granddaughter, Nida sighed softly. “I’m thankful to God that the rest of my family is alive. Otherwise, I try to face each day with the new morning. And only God can give me that strength.”