Search and rescue, power, telco services restoration top priority
MANILA, Philippines—President Benigno Aquino III on Friday night ordered the release of P365 million to the Philippine Air Force as a search and rescue operation for victims of Supertyphoon “Yolanda” got under way.
After a meeting with selected Cabinet members Friday, Mr. Aquino ordered the following: the immediate restoration of power in the affected provinces in the Visayas; coordination with telecom companies to resume phone connectivity; the clearing of road obstructions and the declogging of waterways; and examination of coastal areas affected by storm surges to help speed up relief efforts starting on Saturday.
He also directed Science Secretary Mario Montejo to “study and recommend” to the government the adoption of an all-weather communication system in the face of widespread problems with phone connectivity in the midst of the disaster.
These instructions were announced by Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma in an interview Friday night with state television PTV 4.
Report from Roxas, Gazmin
According to Coloma, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and Interior Secretary Mar Roxas had reported to the President via satellite phone from Leyte. The two had flown last Thursday to the province, which was predicted to be under the most serious threat from the supertyphoon.
“They reported heavy damage in the province, widespread power outages and that telecom services have yet to be restored to normal (operation),” said Coloma.
Mr. Aquino also conferred with Armed Forces Chief Emmanuel Bautista for logistical support to be given the AFP.
The P365 million will be released to the Air Force for fleet maintenance and provisions as well as provision for petroleum, oil and lubricants.
Earlier yesterday, the President placed the entire government on “full alert” mode as Yolanda barreled through the central Visayan islands.
The President also ordered the release of an additional P53.24 million for relief operations, on top of the P195 million worth of prepositioned relief resources that had been announced on Thursday.
Hours after the strongest typhoon ever recorded made landfall in five Visayan provinces yesterday, the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) issued a call for civilian volunteers to help repack relief goods at the National Operations Center in Malibay, Pasay.
As of noon Friday, some 125,604 individuals, or 26,675 families, had been housed in 109 evacuation centers in 22 provinces, 13 cities and 73 municipalities in seven regions—Mimaropa, Bicol, Western Visayas, Central Visayas, Eastern Visayas, Northern Mindanao and Caraga.
“The entire strength of the government is focused on aiding our people and taking them out of danger as a result of the devastation of Supertyphoon Yolanda,” Coloma told a Palace briefing earlier Friday.
Coloma said Yolanda had already made landfall five times—Guiuan, Eastern Samar; Dulag and Tolosa in Leyte; Daanbantayan, Cebu; Bantayan Island, Cebu; and Concepcion, Iloilo.
“All agencies of government led by the NDRRMC (National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council) are currently on full red alert. The DSWD is prepared to distribute relief goods to the residents of affected provinces, cities and municipalities,” he said.
Coloma also gave updates on the specific directives given to crucial departments—social welfare, health, energy and public works.
He said Health Secretary Enrique Ona had directed all Department of Health-supervised hospitals to provide medical assistance to affected residents.
The NDRRMC was also monitoring the water levels at dams like Agno and Angat, he said, while the National Grid Corp. was working to restore power in Catbalogan, Samar; Southern Leyte; parts of western and eastern Leyte; Calbayog City in Samar; Tacloban City and Palo in Leyte; and parts of Surigao del Norte.
The heavy equipment of the Department of Public Works and Highways is ready to remove street obstructions, and declog rivers and waterways, said Coloma.
He said the airports of Kalibo, Roxas, Tacloban, Surigao, Caticlan, Legazpi, Romblon and Iloilo were temporarily closed to all air traffic to prevent accidents.
Asked if the President, who had opted to monitor the progress of Yolanda from Malacañang, was satisfied with the government’s disaster preparedness this time, Coloma said Mr. Aquino had nothing to worry about because “we see the efforts of the government to be proactive.”
By proactive, he explained that “we should be a step ahead of the situation” and “our countrymen should have sufficient information that would take them out of harm’s way and thus prevent the unnecessary loss of lives.”
Two steps ahead
Learning from the lessons of typhoons “Sendong” (2011) and “Pablo” ( 2012), the government indeed appeared to be two steps ahead this time around.
As early as Wednesday, Mr. Aquino had activated all national, regional, provincial and municipal disaster risk reduction management councils, and ordered the preemptive evacuation of residents living in danger zones and the prepositioning of P195 million worth of relief goods and other logistics in the Eastern Visayas, the most seriously threatened region.
He also called for cooperation and bayanihan during a televised speech on Thursday even as he warned local government units that their constituents were facing a “serious threat.”
Communication, power disruptions
At the briefing yesterday, Coloma said the government was coordinating with telecom companies amid reports of weak cellular sites or signals in parts of the Visayas.
“These are the priority areas for power restoration. As to questions on connectivity, they are also working closely with the telecommunications companies to ensure minimal disruption of services because in times of calamity, it is important for our people to have the means of communication so that they can assure the safety of their families,” he said.
“We prioritize (response) based on the ranking of the situation according to how serious the danger that is posed to the lives of our people. So the first line of response is the rescue in areas that could be affected by storm surges and rising floodwaters,” said Coloma.
After affected residents are rescued, they will be cared for by the government in evacuation centers, he said.
Gov’t’s top priority
Aside from the safety of the people, the provision of “basic needs” such as “food, shelter and clothing” of those in evacuation centers was the top priority of government, Coloma said.
“And as we receive significant information on actual damage or if there are casualty reports, we will give it to you on a continuing basis for the rest of the day,” he said.
Besides storm surges, he said the Phivolcs (Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology) was “watching out for possible lahar movement on Mt. Bulusan in Sorsogon because there are heavy deposits of lahar on the slopes of Mt. Bulusan.”
“We are looking out for reports of landslides because these would have potentially disastrous effects,” he said.
“All aspects are being taken into account,” he said.
‘Better safe than sorry’
Coloma explained that being proactive was different from being alarmist.
“Better safe than sorry,” he said, stressing that “every Filipino’s life is important.”
Asked if this “proactive mode” was part of the new norm in the government’s disaster risk reduction strategy, he said: “Yes, definitely. And we want to improve as we face continuing challenges due to the phenomenon of climate change. We would want to improve as we go along, and we are not forgetting the goal of zero casualty. It may be ambitious, and unrealistic, we’re not disheartened. We still want to achieve that.”
He said that, according to the latest update from the NDRRMC, there was still a low number of reported casuaties from Yolanda.
“Only three casualties have been reported, two of whom were electrocuted in separate areas in San Jacinto, Masbate and Surigao del Sur. The last one was struck by lightning in Zamboanga City. Seven have been reported injured,” he said.
He commended Filipinos “for heeding the call of the government to take the necessary safety precautions and for following by the evacuation measures that have been put in place by local government officials especially those residing in danger zones and high-risk areas.”
“The President has directed all government agencies to conduct continuous search and rescue activities to ensure that, at the barangay level, all families and community members are accounted for. Special attention is being given to areas that may have been isolated from town centers in the aftermath of the typhoon,” he said.
Coloma urged everyone to remain vigilant until Yolanda leaves the Philippine area of responsibility, which is estimated to be at about 9 a.m. Saturday.
Ready to chip in
Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. on Friday said Metro Manila residents should be ready to “chip in” to help the victims of Supertyphoon Yolanda.
“Looks like Metro Manila will not be affected. Let’s help those affected,” said Belmonte in a text message.
Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone, whose province was directly in the path of the supertyphoon, said it was the “worst” calamity his province had ever experienced.
In a statement on Friday, Australian Ambassador Bill Tweddell extended the “heartfelt sympathies” of the Australian government and people for the massive destruction from Typhoon Yolanda.
“Australia, as a close friend of the Philippines, is deeply concerned for the Filipino people at this difficult time. I admire the resilience and courage that Filipinos demonstrate under extreme pressure. I note that relief and recovery efforts are still ongoing in areas that were severely affected by the Bohol earthquake and the typhoon that also battered Northern Luzon just last week,” Tweddell said. With Gil C. Cabacungan
Click here for more weather related news.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.