Strong winds ravaged the Philippines, killing at least 400 people and leaving thousands homeless.
Ricardo Virtudazo’s father stood on a pool of water in his storm-tossed church in the southern Philippines, giving Christmas Day Mass to many volunteers who were looking for new roofs, food and good weather this year.
Just one week after Supertyphoon Rai cleared the islands, killing about 400 people and leaving hundreds of thousands homeless, survivors clinging to families and faith their homes – and organized festivals – were canceled.
“The important thing is that we are all safe,” said Joy Parera, 31, who attends Christmas with her husband at the San Isidro Labrador Parish Church in Alegria, north of Mindanao Island.
Heavy rain soaked the chairs and white tiles of the church, which was left with a hole in the roof after Hurricane Rai devastated the area on December 16th.
Volunteers wore masks as they gathered inside the church adorned with Christmas decorations and prayed for a better year.
“We are optimistic,” Virtidazo told AFP.
Despite the problems they face, they continue to trust in God.
Christmas is one of the most important events in the Christian calendar and, in the predominantly Catholic Philippines, families gather for a meal.
But the widespread destruction that ravaged Rai in the southern and central parts of the country has put an end to celebrations as many survivors are begging for water and food.
The islands of Mindanao, Siargao, Dinagat, and Bohol are among the worst-hit islands in the world, with torrential downpours, torn roofs, wooden houses, demolished concrete poles and uprooted trees.
The increase in damage, the lack of mobile phones or the internet in many places, and the decline of governments after the response of COVID-19 were hampering efforts to distribute aid.
Nardel Vicente said his Christmas wish was for someone to help him buy a new roof over his house in Alegria when it was ripped off by Rai.
Unemployed and with little money, Vicente said his family would not be able to afford food this year.
“Over the years we had spaghetti, pork, chicken – whatever we could afford among us,” the 38-year-old said.
But he added: “That’s fine – we’re alive. It is so much better to celebrate Christmas with the dead. ”
Marites Sotis often provides meat, spring and salad for his family.
“We won’t have it this year because it costs a lot of money,” Sotis, 53, told AFP on the shores of Lake Placer where a hurricane knocked down several of his family’s coconut trees.
“We’ll deal with spaghetti.”
Some survivors in the nearby city of Surigao have been standing in the streets for days begging for money and food from passing motorists after failing to receive government assistance.
Inaga Edulzura, 41, said she hopes to get a packet of spaghetti to cook for her family. Otherwise, “they would have made a loaf of bread”.
“Our only request is to have a good Christmas day,” he told AFP.