The greatest storm

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Fr. Shay Cullen

Fr. Shay Cullen

The rains would not stop even after the winds had died down. Rachel was terrified for her children and herself. Juanito, her husband had gone looking for food. The typhoon blew wild and wickedly across the Philippines leaving behind rising flood waters, mangled huts and shacks, and toppled mango trees. Even sturdy coconut trees had crashed to the ground, defiant yet overwhelmed by a force never before encountered.

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Rachel, alone in her small, one-room bamboo and grass-roofed shack embraced her three terrified children who were crying in fear and she prayed to be spared. Her fear was heightened by the darkness and the running water, now a few feet from the hut and rising fast. In a moment, instinct won out, she decided to run for it.

The lightning flashed and a bolt of searing lighting lit the sky for an instant through the rain and she saw a familiar landmark, the outline of a hill, high ground, and hope. Rachel abandoned her few belongings, the treasured cooking pot, the metal wok, and the thermos flask; once proud possessions but now they were of no value to her in the face of imminent death. Wealth and property become burdens on our final journey to the casket and the grave; this could be our greatest storm.

Rachel had no time or capacity for such philosophical thoughts; survival was what drove her to escape to dry land like thousands of others. She gathered up her children, Miguel and Juan Jr., clinging to her rain-soaked dress and baby Ester in her arms and left the hut to wade through the rising waters.

She stumbled and staggered for half an hour keeping the children above water and splashed through the flooded rice fields. Mercifully, in the next flash of lightning, she saw a large building surrounded by hills. The lightning followed by a clap of thunder caused her to scream and the children to cry, she cried out “Jesus help us, help us”.

And help appeared. A flashlight showed the rescuers the way and soon strong arms snatched Miguel from the water that was almost up to his neck and another grabbed Juan Jr. and they waded towards the tall building and to safety on the high-ground.

Soon they were dried off, wrapped in blankets and sitting near a fire in a big warehouse, eating cooked rice and dried fish. It was salvation and happiness. Then even greater joy when she saw Juanito, her husband in the same shelter, his leg was broken, but he was alive. They hugged and were one family again.

Rachel’s story is one of thousands of the people saved but there are many more who are not and they are buried in landslides, drowned in flood waters or perish because of disease and malnutrition.

The frequency and ferocity of the storms hitting Asia, north and south, is a new phenomenon. It is surely the result of the climate change that the scientists had predicted, the experts foretold, that scientific evidence confirmed. It’s clear that human activity is causing it. There is no escaping the fact that the earth is warming with the gasses unleashed by irresponsible industry and human energy waste and non-stop burning of fossil fuels.

The rising gasses are trapped by the atmosphere and they blanket the planet raising its temperature. The oceans and lakes are evaporating; the atmosphere is loaded with moisture as never before and the clouds are carried inland to unleash their deadly load.

The traumatic disturbance of the planet, where all things are connected and interdependent, is evidence of our failure to protect the balance of creation, to control our greed, unsustainable consumerism and the pursuit of wealth.

When the typhoon passed and the rains ceased and the sun shone, I went to the newly-constructed children’s home for sexually abused and trafficked girls. It was unoccupied as the storm hit and will remain so for a while. The children are safe in their present building closer to the city.

The rice fields through which the likes of Rachel escaped were still underwater. But I could not reach the new building, the access road within five hundred meters of it had been washed away. The government had failed to dredge the silt from the river and it quickly burst its banks.

The small stream had become a raging torrent and overwhelmed the embankment, eroded the soil, and brought down part of the perimeter safety wall. The small bridge was clogged up with many logs that had come down from the hills with the waters, evidence of rampant illegal logging in the Subic hills.

This too is causing landslides, erosion and forest destruction that brings death and loss to thousands over the years. The loss of forest is a factor in global warming. Typhoons are increasing in this beautiful yet tragic land. But we have to do more to protect God’s creation and save the planet and the people like Rachel and her family.

shaycullen@preda.org , www.preda.org

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