Search teams on bikes reach areas smashed by ‘Yolanda’

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In this aerial image, damaged buildings and houses are seen Saturday Nov. 9, 2013 as powerful typhoon Haiyan hit Tacloban city, in Leyte province in central Philippines. AP

MANILA, Philippines – With many roads still blocked by fallen trees or debris, Interior Secretary Manuel “Mar” Roxas II on Monday said they used bicycles to reach isolated areas affected by monster typhoon “Yolanda.”

“Nagpapadala kami ng tao, nakabisikleta (We’ve been sending a person on bicycle)” who acts as a scout, he said in an interview with Radyo Inquirer 990AM.

Roxas said they tell the person to relay messages to the isolated communities and to gather information on their situation.

“Ngayon unti-unti pa lang pumapasok, bumabalik yung mga scout. At hindi maganda yung balita, lalong nakakalungkot. (Now the scouts are starting to return. And the news they bring is not good. It is saddening),” he said.

He said it has been very difficult for them to facilitate relief operations because of the lack of communication link. For the last three days, communication lines and electricity were down in typhoon-hit provinces of Samar and Leyte.

Earlier reports said Roxas and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin were incommunicado for several hours on Friday after “Yolanda” smashed Visayas and other parts of the country. A satellite phone had to be sent to them since even radio tranceivers were deemed useless.

Read: Zamboanga crisis veterans Roxas, Gazmin no match for ‘Yolanda’

On Monday, reports filtered in that cellular services were restored in the city. Some roads were also being cleared.

“There is no AM radio. We can’t even broadcast to tell the people to proceed to the barangay (village) hall for the distribution of relief goods,” added Roxas, who was earlier sent by President Benigno Aquino III to oversee disaster preparations in the region.

The Interior Secretary said their movements have been limited, even inside Tacloban City where he is currently stationed, because many of the roads were blocked.

Days after the calamity, relief goods had to be flown into the city proper because roads from and going to Tacloban airport were blocked. Palace officials said they have also been airdropping relief goods to areas not reachable by land.

With only a small portion of the affected areas surveyed, authorities and humanitarian aid groups fear the full extent of damage wrought by the typhoon on Eastern Visayas.

Roxas said that for now they are focusing on the basic needs of the survivors, followed by the restoration of order and the recovery of corpses.

The Secretary said the national government has stepped in because many of those in the local government units were also devastated by what is now considered among the world’s strongest typhoons.

“There are 293 policemen in Tacloban. (After the typhoon) only 20 reported. Others died, were wounded or are still looking for their relatives,” Roxas revealed.

He said government forces from other regions were sent to the area to help restore peace and order amid news of looting.

Roxas called on the public and concerned groups to forward their donations to the Department of Social Welfare and Development. He also urged engineers and medical personnel to volunteer. He, however, added that the typhoon-hit provinces are in dire need of medical supplies, as well as operators and equipment used for clearing operations.

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