Batanes quakes expose gaps in disaster response
MANILA, Philippines — The series of earthquakes in the picturesque island of Itbayat, Batanes have presented a few major challenges to disaster responders and the military that hampered their ability to respond swiftly.
Defense Secretary and National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) chairman Delfin Lorenzana said one of the major challenges faced by the military, the first responders when the earthquakes struck, was the lack of assets.
“Ang unang challenge is assets because we have the personnel, but sometimes we don’t have the capability to lift these people in disaster areas,” he said in a press conference for the National Disaster Resilience Summit held Tuesday in Quezon City.
“The challenge is how to get the people there para makapagpadala ng mag-retrieve, magbigay ng first aid sa nasugatan. People will feel most secure pag andun na yung tutulong sa kanila,” he also said.
Batanes Group of Islands, the northernmost part of the country, is isolated from mainland Luzon.
“The mode of transport is by boat and mabagal ‘yun eh. It took us a day before we could respond and bring supplies to Basco and then bring to Itbayat,” Lorenzana said.
He said they were also not able to react immediately as they would have wanted because the military had to bring in choppers from mainland Cagayan to Basco.
“Mabagal ang reaksyon because it’s too far away from the nearest base from Tuguegarao City, Cagayan. Medyo matagal yung chopper so ang challenge we can’t get there immediately. We can’t retrieve or remove those natabunan,” he said.
During his visit to quake-hit Batanes a day after the earthquakes, President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered to improve the runways in Itbayat and Basco.
“If there’s a working airport in Itbayat, diretso na sana ‘yung supplies doon from Manila. Mabilis lang,” Lorenzana said.
They were also looking at installing runway lights in Basco so it can be used even at night.
Another solution that the government was also considering is to upgrade the pier on the island.
“There’s a plan from the provincial government unit of Batanes to improve the pier kasi gusto nilang magkaroon ng breakwater para hindi na maapektuhan ng alon ‘yung mga bangka nila,” the defense chief said.
A ship should also be on standby in the area to bring supplies from Basco to Itbayat faster while the national government prepares to bring more assistance.
NDRRMC Executive Director Ricardo Jalad said that a warehouse in Basco is now under construction. It will serve as the stockpile for food and other relief items during disasters while waiting for help from the mainland.
“We have enough food supplies pero ang challenge is transportation. We were only able to transport 1/4 relief goods we gathered in Tuguegarao,” he said.
Nine people were killed and at least 60 were wounded from the twin major earthquakes – measuring 5.4- and 5.9-magnitude, successively, and the series of aftershocks in Itbayat last Saturday. Batanes has also been placed under a state of calamity.
“We have a tendency to belittle this kind of disaster… But if we extrapolate the population of that island to Manila, which is 20 million, we would have incurred 62,000 people killed and 63 injured will translate to 434,000,” Lorenzana said. /kga
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