DUMAGUETE CITY—A passenger vessel ran aground Thursday after being hammered by strong winds and waves spawned by a tropical depression, but all 228 passengers—many of them students returning to this university town from the holidays—were rescued unharmed, authorities said.
“Auring,” the first weather disturbance of the year, slammed across Davao Oriental at midnight Wednesday and plodded across Northern Mindanao on its way out of the country Friday night.
Flooding sent 90 families fleeing to safer grounds in Dipolog City, said the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) in Manila. An unidentified boy gathering driftwood was swept away in a swollen river and was declared missing, according to Mayor Edgardo Timbol of Kapalong in Davao del Norte.
The MV Zamboanga Ferry of the Cebu-based George & Peter Lines arrived from Zamboanga City and was docking at the Dumaguete port about 9 a.m. when the winds blew it toward the seafront Rizal Boulevard.
Capt. Anelito Gabisan, deputy commander of the Philippine Coast Guard-Central Visayas District, said the 850-ton vessel then ran aground about 15 meters from the port.
Initial efforts to drag the boat to deeper waters to enable it to restart its engines failed after the ropes tied to a forklift broke.
It took rescuers seven hours to bring 194 adults, 11 infants and 23 children to dry land on board life rafts, Gabisan said.
Georgia Felice Chiongbian-Rama, George & Peter vice president, told the Philippine Daily Inquirer that all passengers had disembarked to safety by 4 p.m.
Many of the passengers were students of Dumaguete’s four universities who were returning from Christmas break.
The rescued passengers were given first aid at Rizal Boulevard and were brought to the passenger terminal of the Philippine Ports Authority.
“We were so afraid for our lives a while ago. Now, I can say we’re all OK,” said a grandmother from Manjuyod town who was traveling with her three grandchildren.
CPO Crispin Chiong of the Coast Guard said the ship captain, Roland Villarin, had recommended that the vessel, a roll-on roll-off ship with 14 crewmembers, wait out the storm’s fury and dock only after the winds and waves had subsided.
In a statement, Rama maintained the incident was caused by bad weather spawned by Auring.
“There is no truth to some reports that there was engine failure or that the ship ran aground, otherwise the vessel would not have been able to maneuver out of the port area,” Rama said.
She said the ferry was attempting to dock at the Dumaguete port at 9 a.m. when strong gusts of wind estimated to be 34 kilometers per hour cut the mooring tiles. The winds and waves kept pushing the vessel towards the pier, she said.
To avoid collision with the pier, Villarin decided to maneuver the vessel out of the port area, Rama added.
She explained that the ferry’s captain wanted to wait until it was safe to dock.
“Unfortunately, strong winds pushed the vessel out to the Boulevard area where it is at present so we had to anchor down and quadruple-tie the vessel to Pier 6 to avoid hitting the Boulevard,” Rama said.
The low pressure area developed into a tropical storm and placed Dumaguete and the southern part of Negros island as well as Siquijor under Storm Signal No. 1 at 10 a.m.
The ferry, built in Saiki, Japan, in 1974, is the biggest vessel in the George & Peter Lines fleet of ferries. It has a passenger capacity of a little over 700 and regularly plies the Cebu-Dumaguete-Dapitan-Zamboanga route.
Benito Ramos, NDRRMC executive director, said Auring caused Lubungan River to swell, prompting 90 families at Barangay (village) San Jose in Dipolog to evacuate.
“In some areas, the floodwaters reached neck-deep level that’s why residents were being evacuated to safer grounds,” Ramos told the Inquirer.
He said the Zamboanga Peninsula had been having light to moderate rain since Thursday morning.
Knee-deep floods also forced the local government units to close the main highways and a bridge in the municipality of Katipunan and other nearby towns in Zamboanga del Norte, Ramos added.
He said the council had also warned the municipalities in the southern section of Palawan that Auring could cause landslides and flooding.
Local disaster units
“But we are leaving it up to the local disaster management units to order preemptive evacuation in low-lying areas which may be affected by flooding,” Ramos said.
Ramos said he still had no casualty figures from Auring. More than 1,000 people died and another 800 went missing when Typhoon “Pablo” struck Mindanao on Dec. 4. Several dozen people were also killed in the aftermath of Tropical Storm “Quinta” last week. With reports from Carine Asutilla and Jhunnex Napallacan, Inquirer Visayas; Frinston L. Lim and Julie Alipala, Inquirer Mindanao; and Marlon Ramos and Jerry E. Esplanada in Manila
First posted 12:01 am | Friday, January 4th, 2013