Bohol takes first steps toward recovery
All Souls takes on new relevance in post-quake Philippines
A tomb damaged by the Bohol earthquake (photos by Vincent Go)
Tears are hard to come by for Saturnino Barace Jr as he lights candles and places flowers on four tombs in the cemetery on a hill above a rushing river.
It's All Souls' Day, the day to remember the dead, but he seems stoic two weeks after a deadly earthquake killed his father, mother, sister, and 5-year old niece.
Saturnino recalls the pastoral setting of the morning of Oct 15 -- birds chirping, a breeze that swayed the coconut trees, occasional barking of the neighbors' dogs, and the sound of flowing water in a nearby spring.
He and his father, Saturnino Sr, were outside fixing a wooden bench so that visitors could sit during the upcoming feast celebration for the town's patron saint. His mother, Emiliana, was doing laundry on the other side. His sister, Elizabeth, a deaf mute, rested inside the family's hut, while his niece Shame Jyle tossed a paper plane in the garden.
Then the leaves rustled, the dogs wailed, the earth moved, and from somewhere beneath their feet came a sound Saturnino never heard before.
"It was like rocks being crushed," he said. Then the earth shook, five seconds, 10 seconds, and longer, "like it would never end," he said. "It was like we were standing on water."
"We ran to the middle of the garden, embraced Shame Jyle, held each other's hands, and dropped on the ground," Saturnino remembers. "We were trying to protect Shame Jyle," he said. The ground opened some 10 ms wide and swallowed everything above -- trees, the family's hut, his family -- and buried them some six ms deep.
Knocked unconscious, Saturnino awoke to find he was buried up to his chest. He did his best to free himself, right arm first, then the left. "I could see my father's foot in front of me. I heard him struggling for air. I heard my mother, my sister, and my niece moaning," he recalled. "The last word I heard from my father was 'strive' … Then there was silence.”
He shouted for help but none came. He tried to grab his father’s foot, but the trembling earth prevented him. "He slipped from my hold," Saturnino said. "I had difficulty breathing. I thought I would already die. I wanted to die."
After six hours, neighbors came and dug Saturnino out. His parents, sister, and niece, however, were gone. Their bodies were recovered about 36 hours later and brought to the public cemetery in the town of Antequera, in the central Philippine province of Bohol.
The Baraces were among the more than 200 people killed by the 7.2 magnitude earthquake that destroyed centuries-old churches, homes, and structures, and cemeteries, like the one in Antequera where tombs collapsed, exposing bones and skulls. Some three million people were displaced.
"[The earthquake] may be a reminder from God because of the sins that people commit," said Saturnino, a farmer who dreamed of working as a driver one day to uplift the lives of his parents.
Antequera Mayor Jose Pahang said the town will celebrate All Souls' Day despite the tragedy. "Let [All Souls' Day] be a reminder… [that] the living must continue living for the dead will take care of themselves.
"He added, "People should worry more about the living than the dead."
Father Joel Ruyeras, parish priest of nearby Loon town whose centuries-old church was leveled by the quake and whose residents bore the worst of the damage, echoed the mayor's sentiments.
"All Souls' Day is not just a celebration to honor the dead. It is always a celebration of life. We should all be thankful to God for giving us the opportunity to be here to participate in this wonderful gift that is life."
Nearly three weeks after the tragedy, the province of Bohol has started to rise from the rubble. Residents have put up handwritten signs along the streets thanking those who helped. Also seen around town were new signs pointing visitors to potential tourist destinations generated by the earthquake, including ruined churches, fissures in the ground, and sinkholes that have become added attractions in a province better known for its scenic towns, mountains and beaches.
Governor Edgar Chatto told the media that Bohol continues to capture the interest of tourists. With the ruined churches as a potential destination, the governor said that it would not be hard for the residents to rebuild the region’s economy.
The famous river cruise in the town of Loboc, for instance, resumed operations a week after the earthquake following repairs to the docks. Tourists have returned to the "Chocolate Hills" in Carmen and to the island of Panglao, which is internationally known for its white sand beaches and diving spots.
"The pain of loss is very real," Father Ruyeras said. “But the faith of the people in the resurrection is all the more real.”"It’s always a kind of tension between pain and hope. In the midst of these trying times, and even in the midst of death, the only thing that matters, and the real treasure that we have right now, is our faith."
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