TACLOBAN, Philippines (AFP) – Thousands of residents of the typhoon-weary city of Tacloban in the mainly Catholic Philippines prepared Wednesday to mark their second Christmas in ruins following two giant storms.
A huge streetside Christmas lantern was the sole sign of the nation’s most festive holiday in the city’s Magallanes district, where shanties have replaced a community flattened by tsunami-like waves whipped up by Super Typhoon Haiyan 13 months ago.
Magallanes shopkeeper Aida Comendador, 46, lined up at the nearby local social welfare office to collect up to 10,000 pesos ($224) in government subsidies for repairs to her severely damaged house in the city on the central island of Leyte.
“We’ve managed to put up a ramshackle shelter out of 20 pieces of roofing sheets donated by a Catholic charity, but we still don’t have a door and proper beds,” the mother of three told AFP.
Haiyan, the strongest typhoon ever to hit land, left 7,350 people dead or missing, and the coastal neighbourhood of Magallanes highlights the slow pace of reconstruction.
Roughly a million people need to be moved away from Magallanes and other coastal areas deemed vulnerable to the monster waves generated by Haiyan, according to a 160-billion-peso ($3.6 billion) government rebuilding plan.
Pope Francis is to visit Tacloban next month during a four-day tour of the Philippines, Asia’s Catholic bastion.
This month Tacloban was hit again – this time by Typhoon Hagupit, the most powerful to hit the country this year, which destroyed more houses and tents provided by aid agencies to Haiyan survivors.
However, prompt evacuation of nearly 1.7 million people living in vulnerable areas in several parts of the country prevented more deaths.
Hagupit killed just 33 people elsewhere in the country, according to the Philippine Red Cross.
“We already feel a lot better compared to last year,” Magallanes vegetable vendor Maria Fe Cajara, 37, told AFP as she planned her family of four’s Christmas Eve dinner, the year’s most eagerly awaited meal for Filipino families.
“My husband and I are planning to buy roasted chicken. Last year we had relief goods to celebrate Christmas,” she added.
In Manila President Benigno Aquino urged Filipinos to observe Christmas as a day of thanksgiving for the limited damage caused by Hagupit.
“Let us not forget to thank God for, although (Hagupit) caused some damage, more people were saved and now have the opportunity to celebrate Christmas with their loved ones,” he said in a televised message.