Tag archive for "calamity"

A GRIM, CHAOTIC COUNT

Current Affairs

A GRIM, CHAOTIC COUNT

No Comments 20 November 2013

Counting the dead in the Philippines is grim, slow, and frustratingly inexact work. On November 19, the Philippine government put the count at just under 3,982, but no one seemed to believe it would stay there. The United Nations warned that crews have still not reached some remote islands. READ FULL STORY

(See related story)

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WHEN HAIYAN STRUCK

Current Affairs

WHEN HAIYAN STRUCK

No Comments 13 November 2013

On November 8th, after Typhoon Haiyan hit, Helen Merino, a forty-four-year-old housemaid in Manila, tried to reach her parents in rural Barangay Tolingon, part of Isabel municipality in Leyte province. All power and communication lines were down, but somehow Facebook was accessible. READ FULL STORY

 

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A SURVIVOR’S STORY

Current Affairs

A SURVIVOR’S STORY

No Comments 12 November 2013

Lieutenant Colonel Fermin Carangan is the Commanding Officer of TOG 8, the Air Force unit tasked to provide air support for Samar and Leyte. Here he narrates his ordeal as Supertyphoon Haiyan (local name: Yolanda) unleashed her fury on Tacloban on that fateful morning of November 8. READ FULL STORY

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DESPERATE SURVIVORS RAID THE DEAD

Current Affairs

DESPERATE SURVIVORS RAID THE DEAD

No Comments 11 November 2013

TACLOBAN CITY – Tormented survivors of Super Typhoon Yolanda that is feared to have killed thousands rummaged for food through debris scattered with corpses, while frenzied mobs looted aid convoys.

Two days after one of the most powerful storms ever recorded flattened communities across a large part of the country last Nov. 8, desperate survival tactics created fresh horrors.

On the outskirts of Tacloban, a coastal eastern city of 220,000 where tsunami-like waves destroyed many buildings, Edward Gualberto accidentally stepped on bodies as he raided the wreckage of a home.

Wearing nothing but a pair of red basketball shorts, the father of four and barangay councilor apologized for his shabby appearance and for stealing from the dead.

“I am a decent person. But if you have not eaten in three days, you do shameful things to survive,” Gualberto told AFP as he dug canned goods from the debris and flies swarmed over the bodies.

“We have no food, we need water and other things to survive.”

After half a day’s work, he had filled a bag with an assortment of essentials, including packs of spaghetti, cans of beer, detergent, soap, canned goods, biscuits and candies.

People entered stores and homes just to to survive the day.

People entered stores and homes just to to survive the day.

“This typhoon has stripped us of our dignity… but I still have my family and I am thankful for that.”

Elsewhere in Tacloban, other survivors were employing more aggressive means as they took advantage of a security vacuum created when most of the city’s police force failed to turn up for work after the typhoon.

Philippine Red Cross chairman Richard Gordon said looters ransacked one of his organization’s trucks as it was crossing a bridge in Tanuan, Leyte, last Nov. 10.

“These are mobsters operating out of there,” said Gordon.

According to a report by the Sun Star, the truck carried enough food and water for 25,000 families.

Gordon tried to call local police forces for aid, but no one took his calls.

Like Gualberto, many said they had not eaten since the typhoon and overwhelmed authorities admitted they were unable to get enough relief supplies into the city.

Some broke through shops that had withstood the typhoon by hammering through glass windows and winching open steel barricades.

One desperate meat shop owner brandished a handgun in a failed bid to prevent one mob from entering his shop.

He was ignored and the shop was ransacked. The businessman just silently stood by, waving his gun in the air and shouting. When he realized he had lost the fight, he cursed them and walked away.

Nearby, pastry shop owner Emma Bermejo described the widespread looting as “anarchy.”

“There is no security personnel, relief goods are too slow to arrive. People are dirty, hungry and thirsty. A few more days and they will begin to kill each other,” she said.

“This is shameful. We have been hit by a catastrophe and now our businesses are gone. Looted. I can understand if they take our food and water, they can have it. But TV sets? Washing machines?”

Meanwhile, confused men, women and children walked aimlessly along roads strewn with overturned cars and felled power lines, some gagging from the stench of rotting flesh.

A team of military cadaver collectors had been deployed, but the soldiers appeared overwhelmed.

“There are six trucks going around the city picking up the dead, but it’s not enough,” said the driver of one of the vehicles as it wended its way through the streets.

“There are bodies everywhere, we do not have enough people to get to them.”

Some survivors handed out small letters to passers-by and reporters asking them to contact their relatives to relay their fate.

Many had wounds on their faces and were limping, while all had stories of unimaginable horror.

“The huge waves came again and again, flushing us out on the street and washing away our homes,” Mirasol Saoyi, 27, told AFP near the city’s seaside sports stadium that withstood the typhoon and where thousands of people had gathered.

“My husband tied us together, but still we got separated among the debris. I saw many people drowning, screaming and going under… I haven’t found my husband.” (Reuters and Agence France-Presse)

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BODIES HUNG FROM TREES, SCATTERED ON SIDEWALKS

Current Affairs

BODIES HUNG FROM TREES, SCATTERED ON SIDEWALKS

No Comments 11 November 2013

TACLOBAN CITY — Corpses hung from trees, were scattered on sidewalks or buried in flattened buildings — some of the thousands believed killed in one Philippine city alone by ferocious Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) that washed away homes and buildings with powerful winds and giant waves.

As the scale of devastation became clear on Nov. 10 from one of the worst storms ever recorded, officials said emergency crews could find more bodies when they reach parts of the archipelago cut off by flooding and landslides. Desperate residents raided grocery stores and gas stations in search of food, fuel and water as the government began relief efforts and international aid operations got underway.

Even in a nation regularly beset by earthquakes, volcanoes and tropical storms, Typhoon Haiyan appears to be the deadliest natural disaster on record.

Haiyan hit the eastern seaboard of the Philippines on Nov. 8 and quickly barreled across its central islands, packing winds of 235 kph (147 mph) that gusted to 275 kph (170 mph), and a storm surge of 6 meters (20 feet).

A man brings his lifeless 6-year-old daughter to the morgue in Tacloban City.

A man brings his lifeless 6-year-old daughter to the morgue in Tacloban City.

Hardest hit in the Philippines was Leyte Island, where regional Police Chief Elmer Soria said the provincial governor had told him there were about 10,000 dead, primarily from drowning and collapsed buildings. Most were in Tacloban, the provincial capital of about 200,000 people that is the biggest city on the island.

Reports also trickled in indicating deaths elsewhere on the island.

On Samar Island, Leo Dacaynos of the provincial disaster office said 300 people were confirmed dead in one town and another 2,000 were missing, with some towns yet to be reached by rescuers. He pleaded for food and water, adding that power was out and there was no cellphone signal, making communication possible only by radio.

Reports from other affected islands indicated dozens, perhaps hundreds more deaths.

With communications still knocked out in many areas, it was unclear how authorities were arriving at their estimates of the number of people killed, and it will be days before the full extent of the storm is known.

“On the way to the airport, we saw many bodies along the street,” said Philippine-born Australian Mila Ward, 53, who was waiting at the Tacloban airport to catch a military flight back to Manila, about 580 kilometers (360 miles) to the northwest. “They were covered with just anything — tarpaulin, roofing sheets, cardboard.” She said she passed “well over 100” bodies.

In one part of Tacloban, a ship had been pushed ashore and sat amid damaged homes.

Haiyan inflicted serious damage to at least six of the archipelago’s more than 7,000 islands, with Leyte, Samar and the northern part of Cebu appearing to bear the brunt of the storm. About 4 million people were affected by the storm, the national disaster agency said.

The Philippine National Red Cross said its efforts were hampered by looters, including some who attacked trucks of food and other relief supplies it was shipping to Tacloban from the southern port of Davao.

Tacloban’s two largest malls and grocery stores were looted, and police guarded a fuel depot. About 200 police officers were sent into Tacloban to restore law and order.

With other rampant looting reported, President Benigno Aquino III said he was considering declaring a state of emergency or martial law in Tacloban. A state of emergency usually includes curfews, price and food supply controls, military or police checkpoints and increased security patrols.

Residents walk past damaged structures in Daanbantayan, Cebu.

Residents walk past damaged structures in Daanbantayan, Cebu.

The massive casualties occurred even though the government had evacuated nearly 800,000 people ahead of the typhoon.

Challenged to respond to a disaster of such magnitude, the Philippine government also accepted help from abroad.

President Barack Obama said in a statement that he and his wife, Michelle, were “deeply saddened” by the deaths and damage from the typhoon. He said the U.S. was providing “significant humanitarian assistance” and was ready to assist in relief and recovery efforts.

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel directed the Pacific Command to deploy ships and aircraft to support search-and-rescue operations and fly in emergency supplies.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was “extremely concerned” by the widespread destruction and the steeply rising death toll, according to a statement released by his office.

Pope Francis led tens of thousands of people at the Vatican in prayer for the victims. The Philippines has the largest number of Catholics in Asia, and Filipinos are one of Rome’s biggest immigrant communities.

Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said Aquino was “speechless” when he told him of the devastation in Tacloban.

“I told him all systems are down,” Gazmin said. “There is no power, no water, nothing. People are desperate. They’re looting.”

“The devastation is … I don’t have the words for it,” Interior Secretary Mar Roxas said. “It’s really horrific. It’s a great human tragedy.” (Associated Press)

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LESSONS FROM THE GREAT FLOOD

Current Affairs

LESSONS FROM THE GREAT FLOOD

No Comments 23 January 2010

By Martin Benedict Perez

Tropical Storm “Ondoy” (international codename: Ketsana) poured a month’s amount of rain in six hours on Metro Manila and neighboring provinces last Sept. 26. It would later turn out to be the worst flooding the country has seen in 40 years.

According to the latest data from the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC), the storm left 293 dead and 42 missing, mostly in Manila, Calabarzon, and Central Luzon. Moreover, a total of 629,466 families or over three million people were affected in 1,368 barangays. Many of the victims are currently temporarily sheltered in more than 500 overpopulated and undermanned evacuation centers. Damage to property caused by the storm has reached at least P5.1 billion, with P1.9 billion from infrastructure damage including 4, 270 houses totally destroyed and 5,933 houses partially destroyed and P3.2 billion from damage to rice fields, fish pens, and other agri-businesses.

‘Ondoy’ is now among the most devastating storms our country has seen. In 1991, Tropical Storm ‘Uring’ caused the death of more than 6,000 people mostly in Ormoc City, Leyte, and wrought P10 billion in damages. In 1995 there was Super Typhoon ‘Rosing’ which crossed Calabarzon and Metro Manila, leaving more than 900 dead and another P10 billion in damages. What is worth noting about ‘Ondoy’ is the amount and intensity of its rainfall. In six hours, it deposited 341.3 milliliters of rainfall, an amount comparable to the 24-hour rainfall of 1967.

Government officials and experts are sounding the climate change alarm. Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Lito Atienza said, “The alarm bells are ringing. This is climate change. The unprecedented amount of water that we saw over the weekend would not be the first and last. It will happen over and over again unless we take the necessary steps to help our environment.”

True, global warming is one cause of the massive flooding. The increasing greenhouse gas concentrations resulting from human activity such as fossil fuel burning and deforestation have caused most of the observed temperature increase since the middle of the 20th century. While it is the industrialized countries that are the major contributors to greenhouse emissions, it is the poor countries that bear the brunt of the consequences. 

Then there is urbanization, or more precisely, the inability of the Philippine government to adopt measures to address the problems brought about by the rapid development of an area, such as increased economic activity and concentration of a large number of people in urban centers, which in turn give rise to pollution, congestion, squatting, breakdown of infrastructure facilities and the collapse of health, educational and social services.

To be sure, no country is immune from natural disasters but it is the government’s level of preparedness and ability to address and mitigate nature’s wrath that define effective governance. Sadly, our government only plays lip service to the concept of preparedness. All too often, it simply reacts to situations. It lacks foresight and is often mired in petty bureaucratic clutter, scandals, political intramural and business-as-usual mentality. 

Internationally known architect and urban planner Felino Palafox Jr. resurrects an old master plan for Metro Manila to illustrate the government’s utter lack of political will and appreciation of long-term planning. 

“We are always reacting to crisis. It bothered me when I saw these reports and pictures and people are saying it’s an act of God. It’s not,” said Palafox. “It’s us not following the plans and proposals. If you are an urban planner, an environmental planner, these have been planned as early as 1905. When I saw the damage caused by the floods recently, I realized that these were the same areas that had already been identified.”

Palafox said a 1977 World Bank-funded study identified Marikina Valley, the western shores of Laguna de Bay, and the Manila Bay coastal area as among development areas that should prepare for flooding, earthquakes and possible changes in topography.

The Metro Manila Transport, Land Use and Development Planning Project (Metroplan) was designed as a blueprint for urban planning developers and government agencies. Unfortunately, he said, corruption and lack of planning led to the shelving of many of the plan’s recommendations.

“You see the irony here. National government agencies are aware that there is a flooding level of so many meters, then another national government agency would approve subdivision plans for only nine-meter high houses. There are about 32 signatures to obtain just to do a development project. It’s like an obstacle course,” he said in an ANC television interview on Sept. 29.

“There was supposed to be a Parañaque spillway to flush out the excess water to the Laguna Bay and South China Sea, but this was never done. It was part of the recommendation,” he said.

Palafox said that the study had already noted the possibility of heavy flooding in at least three sites of urban growth in the Philippine capital—the Marikina Valley and its northern and southern parts. “Government knows what the flood lines are. Why did developers of subdivisions allow construction of housing projects below the flood lines?” he asked.

Palafox advocates the construction of more high rise or even stilted settlements, and yet there are hardly any requirements or incentives to push for high-rise socialized housing. This has contributed to the growth of slums in the urban areas. Unfortunately, it is the poor who are most vulnerable to natural disasters.

The government also sadly fails even on the matter of acquiring necessary gadgets for such a necessary task as weather forecasting. The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) is often at the mercy of its critics whenever crises hit. The usual refrain is that fatalities and damages could have been minimized if PAGASA had the proper instruments to track down weather disturbances. The Doppler radar, for example, can measure the amount of expected, which will be used to issue flood warnings.

The Doppler radar was ordered some five years back but for unknown reasons the equipment finally be installed only this December. It was only in 2005, after ‘Uring’ devastated Ormoc in 1991 and ‘Rosing’ ran through Manila in 1995, that the National Disaster Coordinating Council drafted a high priority action plan to modernize PAGASA, 20 years after the Doppler came into the market.

Likewise, a quick note about the government’s calamity fund. About P2 billion is allocated every year for disaster operations but the fund can only be used only when a State of Calamity is declared. But there is no similar fund for disaster readiness. Such allocation will have to vie for a place in the annual budget of national, provincial, and local governments, and oftentimes it is waylaid by other pressing and more lucrative (read, graft-prone) projects.

Finally, every one of us must share part of the blame. It is time we realized that our government is only as strong, vigilant and responsible as its citizens. No plans and programs can deliver the desired result without the full cooperation and involvement of the citizenry. We are all responsible for that stray plastic bag that found its way to the sewers and impede the flow of water, and the noxious fumes from our cars that cause global warming. We must share the blame for electing corrupt officials who pocket the meager resources allocated for flood control and for turning a blind eye to the continued denudation of our forests and the uncontrolled real estate development. Our litany of sins goes on and on.

Images of hapless victims and muddied and crumbling homes crushed our hearts. Stories of volunteers and heroes inspired us to hope for a better day. We heard the question repeated many times: “Why did God allow for this to happen?” Some have suggested that the disaster was punishment for the sins of the Arroyo administration.

But if there is a sin here, it is the sin of human omission. Course corrections need to be set. What people mistakenly focus on in the story of Noah are the people cast away to die in the deluge for their sins and excesses. We need to talk about Noah in the proper context. He was set out to do an impossible task, but he survived. He was rewarded with a new day and a promise that the world will not fall again by His hand.

Thus it can only be by ours, and so our work must begin now.

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