Religious images among prized possessions Filipino quake victims saved

When the earth trembled, Nenita Catubay ran for her life but only after snatching an image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus from the wall of her house.

At the evacuation site in the lowlands, where hundreds of residents sought shelter, people sat beside their religious images.

Images of the Virgin Mary, the Child Jesus, and even posters of saints, were among the few prized possessions the people saved from the earthquake that destroyed their homes.

A series of strong earthquakes rattled the southern Philippines last week, killing at least 22 people and displacing thousands of others.

For days, Nenita and her neighbors have been spending sleepless nights waiting for “aftershocks.”

“The ground furiously shook,” said Nenita in the local language. “Many houses in our communities were knocked down,” she said.

It took several hours for her and her neighbors to reach the lowlands after a landslide blocked the road from the village.

Inside a makeshift shelter, a poster of the Sacred Heart of Jesus was conspicuously placed on the ground. After a while, a woman arrived with a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

“God, please help us from this disaster,” she said. “You already saved us,” she added.

The series of earthquakes affected several areas of Kidapawan Diocese.

As he appealed for donations, Bishop Jose Colin Bagaforo also penned an “oratio imperata,” or “obligatory prayer,” for the safety of people.

“We pray you keep us safe. Embrace with your love the many who were shocked and injured by the strong earthquake,” wrote the prelate.

Dream house no more

For the past ten years, Ano Loma and his wife, Ranyfe, had to set aside a small amount from whatever income they have for their “dream house.”

The couple, and their only child, were set to transfer to their new home when the Magnitude 6.5 earthquake struck on Oct. 31.

“We build our dream house for 10 years, saving whatever we could, but in an instant the earthquake stole the dream from us,” said Loma, who spent about US$4,000 to build the house in the village of Batasan.

“It’s not safe to live there anymore,” he said. “The house has to be condemned,” he added.

Now the family have nowhere to go. The old house was also destroyed.

“The quakes were horrifying. The ground growled. The earth moved not just sideways but up and down,” said he 50-year-old Loma.

Nearby, his wife, 46-year-old Ranyfe, was trying to salvage whatever she can from the collapsed house.

“It’s good that [the earthquake] happened in daylight,” she said. “I could not imagine what would it look like if all of us were inside sleeping,” added Ranyfe.

Thousands of families continue to stay in the open, waiting for donations and tents to protect them from the elements. Some are in evacuation centers.

In the town of Tulunan, the epicenter of the first two earthquakes, Mayor Reuel Limbungan, said the tremors were “very traumatic” especially to children.

He said that unlike typhoons or floods that are over in a day or two, there’s no way to tell when the next earthquake would strike again.

Nenita and Ano have only their saints and religious images to pin their prayers on, hoping that the next tremor will not be as strong as the last.

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