Christmas trees rise at last in devastated Philippine village

Undefeated by typhoon, villagers prepare to fully celebrate the festive season again
Christmas trees rise at last in devastated Philippine village

Residents of the village of Hinaplanon in the southern Philippine city of Iligan take pictures after lighting their Christmas trees on Dec. 1. (Photo by Divina Suson)

It took almost a decade for residents of a tiny village in the southern Philippines to light up their homes and put up Christmas decorations since a strong typhoon devastated their community in 2011.

This year, the people of the village of Hinaplanon are sprucing up their community with 20 Christmas trees, lanterns and other festive symbols.

Each symbol is created by villagers who survived the onslaught of severe tropical storm Washi that caused catastrophic damage in Mindanao on Dec. 16, 2011.

The village of Hinaplanon was the most affected in Iligan City where more than 100 people were found dead and more than 400 others were missing.

Veronico Echavez, the village chief, said that it took the villagers all these years to celebrate Christmas again.

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In 2014, the village council assigned each district in the community to set up a Christmas tree. It is only now that the practice become some sort of Christmas tradition.

On Dec. 1, the villagers switched on the lights on their Christmas trees and decorations "to show to the world that we have taken off from the calamity."

Echavez said the project would not have been possible without the support of the community and its leaders.

The trauma brought about by the tragedy still lingers. "I still cry in fear when I talk about what we went through that night," he said.

It was pitch dark at about one o'clock in the morning of Dec. 17 that year that Echavez went home from a Christmas party when he discovered that the water in the nearby river had already risen. He realized that he could not get close to his house.

"I was about to go back to my car when the waters came. My neighbors shouted at me to climb up to a truck parked nearby," he recalled.

He saw that several houses were already floating drifting downstream. While Echavez struggled with the rising water, his housed was hit by a floating log.

"My family was separated by the current. I gave up and prayed," he said.

"Lord, I'm ready to go, you can take me, but please make my wife and children safe, please keep them from harm," Echavez recalled praying.

Early in the morning the next day, he found his family. He was told that his 2-month-old granddaughter was placed in a plastic basin and floated to safety.

"It was heartbreaking seeing my village. As father of the community and a survivor, I did not know where to start, what to do," he said.

Residents wash their clothes among the debris of houses destroyed by typhoon Washi at Iligan city on Dec. 22, 2011. (Photo by Noel Celis/AFP)

 

The whole village of Hinaplanon was washed out not only by mud but with giant boulders and logs that came tumbling from the mountains.

Some areas in the village were later declared a no-build zone.

From the disaster, the people of the village said they learned important lessons. They have since launched flood control projects and have undergone disaster management seminars.

"We don't want another [Washi] to happen," said Echavez.

He said that in their little village they always pray for a safe Christmas even as they remember through their lighted Christmas trees "our neighbors who died and who we do not see anymore."

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