Tree of Life: How a mango tree saved typhoon victims in Isla de Oro

Rod Bolivar, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 01 2017 02:18 PM

Six years ago, there was a community in Isla de Oro in Cagayan de Oro until typhoon Sendong wiped it all away.

Now, only a mango tree remains for survivors to return to. But this particular tree is a reminder of hope for the residents who clung to its branches to survive when raging waters swept away their loved ones and their possessions.

“Our neighbors who were carried away by the raging flood water took hold of the branches. They stayed up there until the water subsided early in the morning,” said Ricardo Zarate, a former resident of Isla de Oro who now lives in a relocation site provided by the governor for typhoon survivors.

Isla de Oro is now a no-build zone. Weeds and other vegetation replaced the once-sprawling community.

A makeshift cross is placed on the mango tree branch in memory of those who perished in the flood.

Beside it is a concrete marker with inscriptions calling the mango tree, “The Tree of Life.”

Every year during All Souls’ and All Saints’ Days, more so during the tragedy’s anniversary, former residents like Zarate return to Isla de Oro to light candles and offer prayers for the victims of
Sendong.

“I do not know where the bodies of my neighbors were buried. So we prefer to remember them here in Isla de Oro,” added Zarate who felt fortunate that no one from his family died during the onslaught of Sendong.

Aside from The Tree of Life, families of Sendong victims also visit the mass grave at the City Memorial Park where 247 unidentified remains are buried.

Others also visit the Sendong Memorial Walls at the Gaston Park where names of those who died and remain missing are engraved.

Tropical Storm "Sendong" (Washi) was the 21st tropical cyclone that entered the country in 2011. It is also considered as the strongest that year.

"Sendong" left over 1,000 dead and more than 6,000 injured. More than 100 remain missing.