Thursday, October 1, 2009

'Ondoy' death toll hits 246 as 'Pepeng' nears Philippines

Photo released by the Philippine Air Force shows flood victims scampering for relief supplies being dropped by PAF crewmen in San Mateo, Rizal yesterday.

MANILA, Philippines - Swollen rivers and debris-strewn streets yielded more bodies yesterday, bringing the death toll from massive flooding brought by tropical storm “Ondoy” to 246.

As disaster teams sifted through tons of debris in search of bodies – and hopefully survivors – two new storms brewing in the Pacific threatened to complicate relief efforts.

Heavy rain brought by Ondoy (international name Ketsana) inundated the homes of nearly 1.9 million people in Metro Manila and surrounding areas over the weekend, the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC) said yesterday. Nearly 380,000 people have sought shelter in schools, churches and other evacuation centers.

In a press briefing after a Cabinet meeting at the NDCC headquarters in Camp Aguinaldo, Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro said 101 of the casualties were from Metro Manila.

The biggest number of fatalities in Metro Manila was in Quezon City at 44, followed by Marikina with 26, and Pasig, 17. Five people were reported killed in Valenzuela and three each in Mandaluyong, San Juan, and Muntinlupa.

There were 105 reported deaths in Rizal, Cavite, Laguna and Batangas, 25 in Bulacan and 12 in Pampanga. Three casualties were reported in Kabugao, Apayao and Buguias, Benguet. Thirty-seven people remained missing as of press time yesterday.

The Defense chief said damage to infrastructure was P1.5 billion and to agriculture P888.5 million.

He said the figures are expected to go up. “We’ll get a clearer picture (today),” he said.

“It is a partial damage assessment, definitely. Even opportunity loss to revenues of establishments alone would amount to hundreds of millions at the least per day,” he said.

With the number of affected persons estimated at close to 1.9 million, more evacuation centers have been set up from more than 200 on Sunday to 607 yesterday.

Overwhelmed officials have called for international aid, warning they may not have sufficient resources to withstand two new storms forecasters have spotted east of the country in the Pacific Ocean. One could hit parts of Luzon later this week and the other early next week, although meteorologists say that could change.

Forced evacuation

As two new tropical storms threaten Luzon, President Arroyo ordered “preemptive evacuation” of residents in high-risk areas at the first sign of massive flooding.

Mrs. Arroyo issued the order during the NDCC-Cabinet meeting at Camp Aguinaldo.

“What we have to do here as soon as we know where it (tropical depression) will go, we have to do forced evacuation, preemptive evacuation like what they did in Albay,” Mrs. Arroyo told the Cabinet.

“Many residents said they were warned but it (calamity) did not happen so they ignored it this time,” the President said.

She said local disaster teams as well as the Philippine National Police would supervise the evacuation.

“The other thing is those living along the rivers, and along the hillsides, who should have not been there anyway, should not return to those places anymore,” Mrs. Arroyo said.

She directed Interior Undersecretary Mel Robles to mobilize concerned barangay officials to prevent the return of residents living near high-risk areas such as riverbanks and hillsides.

The Civil Service Commission, for its part, directed heads of government offices and personnel to make their facilities available “for those who need temporary shelter, without compromising security and public service.”

Crackdown on looters

Mrs. Arroyo also ordered the PNP to set up detachments in affected residential areas to prevent looting.

PNP chief Jesus Verzosa said there are enough police patrols for all affected areas, particularly in Metro Manila.

“We assure all our affected residents in the different areas in Metro Manila that the PNP will be there. They will be pre-positioned with mobile cars for easy ID and they will be moving around to provide security to all affected residents,” PNP spokesperson Nicanor Bartolome said. He said even cadets of the Philippine National Police Academy might be asked to assist in securing the affected towns and villages.

Bartolome said the PNP has around 3,500 new recruits and an estimated 800 to 1,000 cadets from the PNPA.


Angry flood survivors queued for tinned fish and noodles while another line built for a single toilet at a gymnasium that was turned into an evacuation center in Cainta, Rizal.

On the concrete floor of the covered basketball court, bedraggled children wearing dirty clothes or barely anything at all lay on flattened cardboard cartons, sleeping side-by-side with dogs.

Their parents attempted to build fires with charcoal to cook their meager food rations.

“Get in line!” local official Candy Regavillo barked at the hungry hordes. “Show us some discipline and we will assure everyone gets his or her share.”

Some in the crowd angrily yelled back: “When will we get ours?!”

About 3,000 residents of the depressed neighborhood of San Andres, situated beside a creek in Cainta on the outskirts of Metro Manila, fled to the government gym after floodwaters swamped their homes on Saturday.

“I lined up at 4 a.m. and all I got was a bottle of water,” grumbled 67-year-old grandfather Primo Orcillo at breakfast time, who was barefoot and had the trouser-less child of a missing neighbor with him.

Like many others, Orcillo had missed out on a blue plastic bag of two canned sardines and a pack of noodles designed to sustain each family for an entire day.

“We are very hungry. I haven’t even had coffee,” Orcillo complained.

He said his own daughter was in a different shelter in another part of town, while her husband had gone back to their home to try to salvage what he could.

Even though the food was gone, the lines continued to stretch 250 meters as people hoped more supplies would be delivered.

Some nursing mothers were also asking for infant formula milk, while a top concern was stopping any disease outbreaks that could arise from having so many people crammed together in dirty conditions, officials said.

“We are trying to educate them on proper handling of water and sanitation,” said Cristina Bernaldo, a district social welfare worker. “That’s the most difficult thing to teach.”

Even harder was when 3,000 people had access to just one toilet.

Bernaldo’s boss, Joe Ferrer, summed up the exasperation felt by so many in Cainta and the hundreds of other shelters set up over the past few days.

“We need clothing, food supplies, food rations and medicines,” said Ferrer.

“We don’t know how long we will be able to sustain this,” he said.

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