TORCHED husks of what once was a lively urban community now paint a bleak landscape in the Cebu City barangays of Tisa and Labangon.
The fire that spread across three sitios in two hours last Monday also left its mark on the arm of seven-year-old Harry (real name withheld). He jumped from a flaming window in Sitio Lutaw-Lutaw.
“When I woke up, the fire was already huge. I ran and jumped to get away from it,” Harry said.
The child was saved by a neighbor who saw him crumple to the ground in shock.
The initial statements from some stricken residents were that a family fight led to the fire. Now an unattended lamp is believed to be the likely cause.
Narciso “Junjun” Roble was in tears while he answered allegations he had something to do with how the fire started. He thanked some neighbors who were near his house when the fire started and who have since shielded him from claims that it was his fault.
“It was not. I was even the one who first tried to put out the fire but I was overwhelmed because it became too big,” he said.
His wife also denied that they were fighting that night.
Although the local government has provided evacuation centers in the La Paloma and Labangon gyms, some families chose to go back to their lots, now mostly empty.
Accounting clerk Dexter Rebalde, 34, answered questions while folding clothes his officemates had donated.
He sat under a tarpaulin sheet, which served as a temporary roof over the ruins of his family’s house.
“We are just thankful to God that every one of us survived without a scratch,” he told SunStar Cebu.
His sister-in-law, Everly Ginez, 36, still remembers their ordeal vividly.
“I saw hell in front of my eyes. The fire was so strong as it ate up our house. It was too hot. If I close my eyes right now, the image still fills my head,” she told SunStar Cebu.
Ginez and Rebalde chose to stay in their property instead of evacuating to the La Paloma Gym, which houses 643 individuals or 165 families from Tisa.
In the Labangon Gym, 122 families composed of 487 individuals are staying, for now.
The number of individuals affected by the fire rose to 1,130 in the latest figures provided by the City Disaster Risk Reduction Management Office (CDRRMO).
Ginez appealed to Mayor Tomas Osmeña to help them.
Standing on top of a fire hydrant, which he said had malfunctioned when firefighters needed it the most, Junjun Cañete, 38, thought of the time when their place was full of people, living peacefully.
“Seeing every ruin here makes me sad,” said the father of seven. “It was just yesterday that people were laughing. Now, it’s just silence.”
Cañete plans to slowly rebuild their home once his sister’s loan is released.
For other residents like Mark Laput, a volunteer fireman, the tragedy offered an opportunity to help others.
Laput’s home was ravaged by fire but he continued working to keep other families’ houses safe.
“He always helps other people. He also supports us even with the small money he earns,” said his mother Victoria, 53, who is proud of him.
From all of their things, Victoria saved the image of Señor Sto. Niño from the flames. She said that the Holy Child has been with her to weather the challenges in her life and to guide her family.
“Yes, we are victims. But we are survivors, too. With guidance from Sto. Niño, we can stand up from this tragedy to rebuild what we’ve lost...and more,” she said, looking ardently at the icon.
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