By Carolyn O. Arguillas of MindaNews

THEY fled their homes at midnight to avoid a possible flooding and sought shelter in a chapel located on higher ground. But what the Teduray residents of Kusiong Relocation Site in Datu Odin Sinsuat, Maguindanao del Norte did not anticipate was that a portion of Mt. Minandar would give way, unleashing an avalanche of rocks, soil and water that destroyed everything on its path, including the chapel where they sought refuge, and the relocation site.

This sums up what happened in the early hours of Friday in Kusiong, according to Bai Fatima Kanakan, former executive director of the now defunct Office of Southern Cultural Communities in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. Kanakan lost her maternal uncle and a second cousin to the landslide.

Kanakan told MindaNews on Saturday morning that at least 12 bodies had been retrieved as of 5 p.m. on Friday and were brought to a local funeral home. Her uncle, Jhonny Sap, was the third body dug up from among those who evacuated to the St. Peter & St. Paul Episcopal Chapel, a  chapel that had stood there for at least 50 years, and before the landslide destroyed it, was made of concrete and amakan walls and galvanized iron roofing. The body of her second cousin, Recto Marcos, was the 12th retrieved.

But many more are still unaccounted. And the figures mentioned are about a hundred.

According to Situation 2 Report issued at 9 p.m. on October 28 by the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao’s Rapid Emergency Action on Disaster Incidence (Bangsamoro READi),  heavy rains brought about by super typhoon ‘Paeng’ left at least 67 dead: 50 in Datu Odin Sinsuat (DOS) town, 10 in Datu Blah Sinsuat and seven in Upi, all of Maguindanao del Norte. The report also said 31 persons were injured and five are still missing in DOS.

But during a briefing for BARMM Chief Minister Ahod Balawag Ebrahim on Saturday morning,  the statistics presented was that the death toll as of 6 a.m. was  40, 31 were injured and 15 are missing: 27 dead, 31 injured and four missing in DOS; five dead and seven missing in DBS; six dead and two missing in Upi and two dead and two missing in Barira. (see other story)

The local government, according to Kanakan, established the relocation site for residents near the sea about two years ago, to ensure the safety of its residents who, during Typhoon Frank in June 2008, experienced what was likely a storm surge — the waves rising as high as the coconut trees, destroying their houses. The relocation site is on a higher ground, the chapel on an even higher ground.

But more than a storm surge, Kusiong is vulnerable to tsunamis and was among the areas badly hit by the tsunami of August 1976.

Kanakan shared with MindaNews the accounts shared by her cousins Maria Fe Estologa, whose family survived Friday’s landslide, and Jocelyn Marcos Tamay, a community leader whose brother, Recto, did not survive.

Kanakan quoted her cousins as saying that the barangay turned on the alarm system at midnight to indicate residents must evacuate as the rainfall warning level then was orange going towards red. Families awakened by the alarm rushed to the chapel while others, like Estolago’s family, ran towards the sea.

“Yung tumakbo towards sa.dagat , sila yun nag survive… yung tumakbo sa.chapel, lahat yun.natabunan ng gumuhong lupa at rumagasang tubig bato” (Those who fled towards the sea survived .. those who fled towards the chapel were buried by the landslide), said Kanakan, who now heads an NGO, the Rajah Mamalo Descendants Organization of Southern Philippines Inc .

Florante dela Cruz, one of the volunteers of the NGO, was able to reach the landslide site on Friday afternoon at around 3 p.m. He said the 12th body was retrieved at around 5 p.m but there were two other remains from the site retrieved by family members for a total of 14.

He said he spoke with a survivor who told him there were many of them inside the chapel when the landslide occurred around 1 a.m.

Kanakan on Friday said she was informed there were likely about a hundred persons inside the chapel.

She said the relocation site was home to “more than a hundred houses” with a minimum of seven members per household.

Kanakan said the displaced residents have been brought to at least three evacuation centers in Cotabato City. She said evacuation to the city is continuing but as of 12 noon, she said there are now “more or less 350 households” in the evacuation centers.

She said they need ready to eat food, medicines, food packs, hygiene kits, milk for babies, blankets, pots for cooking, slippers, among others.

Dela Cruz said retrieval operations are continuing but the pace would depend on the weather condition. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)

Source: Mindanao Times (