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Triple Whammy For Bicol: Typhoons Rolly, Quinta And COVID-19; Duterte, Robredo Lead Recovery Efforts

Triple Whammy For Bicol: Typhoons Rolly, Quinta And COVID-19; Duterte, Robredo Lead Recovery Efforts
Residents of Tiwi, Albay start to get back on their feet a day after Super Typhoon Rolly pummeled the Bicol region and caused massive devastation on Nov. 1, 2020. Photo by Edd Gumban, The Philippine STAR

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has suspended quarrying operations around Mayon Volcano in Albay after local residents blamed quarrying for the landslides at the height of Super Typhoon Rolly on Sunday, Nov. 1.

During a meeting at Malacañang on the impact of Rolly on Monday, Nov. 2, President Duterte ordered the DENR and the Department of Public Works and Highways to investigate the quarrying operations in Guinobatan, Albay, one of the areas worst hit by the typhoon.

DENR Secretary Roy Cimatu said floodwaters from the volcano flowed to three rivers where quarrying activities were taking place. He said some of the quarrying operators had left their stockpile in the middle of the rivers. The stockpile, boulders and lahar were carried by the floodwaters and reached residential areas.

“I directed the suspension of the 11 or 12 operators, including suspending the quarry operations around the volcano so we can prevent similar incidents,” Cimatu reported. “At the same time, we will investigate the quarrying procedures. They should not place their stockpile on the river.”

“In the meantime, I will suspend it. In fact, we have to close some of them, those who are culpable for this incident,” he said.

Duterte disclosed he talked to residents of Guinobatan before flying to Manila to attend the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) meeting with officials. He said the residents were concerned about the danger posed by boulders that are carried by the river every time there is a typhoon.

“Without really condemning the act itself of quarrying, I hope it should have the proper environmental clearance. If there is none, then I think you have to stop it in the meantime,” the President noted.
Duterte ended his almost two-week stay in Davao City and conducted an aerial inspection of the areas devastated by Rolly as he drew flak for his absence during the first high-level government meeting on the typhoon.

Photos released on Monday by Sen. Christopher “Bong” Go showed Duterte during his stopover in Guinobatan.

The President was expected to meet with the NDRRMC and to deliver a public address upon his arrival in Metro Manila.

Roque also parried criticisms that Duterte had not been visible while Rolly was battering the country.

“While the President was in Davao, all agencies of the government were on red alert. We held a press briefing here in Camp Aguinaldo even on a Sunday and the government is functioning,” Roque pointed out.

Roque said the NDRRMC had conducted briefings on the typhoon even before the high-level meeting held last Sunday.

Evacuation centers not spared

Vice President Leni Robredo, who hails from Naga City, also flew to Bicol to check on the condition of the people affected by the typhoon and provide the necessary assistance.

The Office of the Vice President has sent relief items for the victims of Rolly in the region.

Robredo visited Bicol on Monday and reported via Facebook that even schools that were filled with evacuees were not spared by Rolly’s wrath.

Robredo, who hails from Naga City, said she left Manila before dawn on Monday and posted photos and videos of the structures severely damaged by the typhoon on her social media pages.

In one of her videos, Robredo personally showed the devastation caused by Rolly on Sabang National High School in Calabanga, Camarines Sur, which housed evacuees.

It was good that nobody was hurt even if the roof of one of the school’s structures was toppled while the ceiling of the others collapsed, Robredo said in the video.

In her radio program on Sunday, Robredo called on the government to support the disaster resilience programs of local government units, especially those frequently hit by typhoons such as Bicol.

She cited the need to build more multi-level evacuation centers in flood-prone areas and a separate evacuation center for animals.

Robredo also proposed the construction of seawalls in coastal barangays.

“In our place, most of the schools, evacuations centers are one-story,” she said. “We really lack disaster-resilient infrastructure.”

Symptoms screening, not testing

To prevent the spread of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) in various evacuation centers nationwide, the government is undertaking “symptoms screening” of all evacuees.

Department of Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said instead of testing all evacuees, the DOH recommended screening and immediate isolation of those who are possibly infected with the virus.

“Testing is ideal kung meron tayong ganoong resources, but it is not recommended at this point. What we have recommended is the symptoms screening and the assignment of safety officers in the evacuation areas,” Vergeire stressed in a virtual briefing on Monday.

Vergeire explained the safety officers would regularly monitor all the evacuees and ensure that minimum health protocols such as wearing of face masks and physical distancing are complied with.

With the regular monitoring, Vergeire said the safety officers could easily identify those with symptoms and take them to a separate facility, thus preventing further transmission.

The evacuees will also be screened before they can go back to their communities when the threat posed by Rolly is over.

The DOH also recommended to local government units (LGUs) that if possible, only one family would be accommodated in each modular tent in the evacuation centers so that physical distancing could be observed.

“If there would be more than just one family inside the tents, they should be required to wear masks, and the safety officers should regularly monitor them,” Vergeire said.

She advised evacuees not to stay inside the tents all day because the air in an enclosed area is not healthy. Children, the elderly and pregnant women will be closely monitored while staying in the evacuation centers, she said.

At this point, the DOH still cannot say if evacuations centers can become COVID “super spreaders,” but Vergeire assured the public that the government is strengthening infection control measures.

DOH Health Emergency Management Bureau director Gloria Balboa said quarantine patients in three temporary treatment and monitoring facilities (TTMFs) in Metro Manila and one in Bicol were transferred to hotels and hospitals as a preventive measure.

The  TTMF structures are being checked before the quarantine patients are brought back to the facilities, she added.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said there is no need for disaster responders to undergo mandatory testing for COVID-19.

“‘Yung ating mga responders, as long as they are asymptomatic at walang history of exposure for confirmed or probable case as certified by a physician, hindi kinakailangang sumailalim sa testing,” Duque said in a press briefing.

Duque stated the first responders will strictly adhere to established infection prevention control protocols and will not cause coronavirus transmission in typhoon-affected areas.

He said the DOH will provide mental health services and psychosocial support to personnel directly affected by the typhoon, and augment staffing to ensure continuity of healthcare services.

According to Duque, some health workers were having difficulty going to hospitals due to floods.

The health chief appealed to LGUs to provide separate rooms in evacuation centers for high-risk individuals like the elderly, the sick, children and pregnant women.

Balboa said initial reports indicated that many health facilities, particularly in the Bicol region could have been damaged by the typhoon. The DOH is set to conduct a rapid assessment of hospitals and other facilities in affected barangays.

But Balboa gave assurance that the government has an existing health facility enhancement program to facilitate repair of the damaged health facilities.

Balboa also reported that vaccines positioned in rural health centers were returned to DOH regional offices and hospitals, where power generators are available to maintain the vaccines at the right temperature.

Meanwhile, the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) reported that up to 90 percent of homes were damaged or destroyed in areas such as Virac in Catanduanes, based on initial assessment of damage from Rolly.

The IFRC has launched an Emergency Appeal for 3.5 million Swiss francs to fund relief and recovery efforts for an estimated 80,000 people. An initial 51,000 Swiss francs has been released to support immediate relief.

“Our teams are in the devastated areas, supporting search and rescue efforts, and providing critical relief including food, blankets, tarpaulins and cooking equipment, and we will be there for the long haul,” Sen. Richard Gordon, chairman of the Philippine Red Cross, said.

LGUs lauded

Despite failing to achieve its “zero casualty” goal, Malacañang lauded agencies and LGUs for their preparations for Rolly and assured the public that response units are functioning properly.

Roque said the forced evacuation in areas devastated by Rolly had mitigated the impact of the cyclone.

“I think the view of the President is he would like to commend all local government units, all departments and agencies of government, because we have demonstrated our preparedness. We mitigated the effects,” Roque said.

“Thank you very much to all the men and women comprising the agencies and instrumentalities of the Philippine government, including the local government units and the public in general,” he added.

Roque underscored the government would continue to aspire for zero casualties in the future, as pointed out by Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo Año, “so we still ask for the continuing cooperation of our people.”

Año said local governments have performed well in terms of typhoon response, noting that forced evacuation of residents in high-risk areas started as early as Oct. 30.

He boasted that local executives already know how to implement pre-disaster protocols, including the activation of operation centers and the designation of search and rescue teams.

What is needed, he said, is “to improve our communication system.”

“We should have a continuous communication system even if the telephone signals are gone. Radio communication should be revived aside from satellite communication,” Año added.

NDRRMC executive director Ricardo Jalad said local disaster management councils are functioning and there was no breakdown of law and order in affected areas.

Comparing Rolly with Super Typhoon Yolanda, Roque said, “We thank God because the damage caused by Rolly was not as severe as that of Yolanda. With regard to casualties, it’s incomparable.”

The number of fatalities and injuries, however, is not yet final as the NDRRMC is expected to receive more updates from local governments and security forces in typhoon-hit provinces.

Yolanda left more than 6,000 people dead and more than a million others displaced in 2013. It damaged about P90 billion worth of private property and public infrastructure.

Roque said affected local governments could ask the Office of the Executive Secretary for a replenishment of calamity funds if necessary. He also vowed to coordinate with telecommunications companies so the national government can get in touch with provinces that bore the brunt of the typhoon.

Rep. LRay Villafuerte and his governor-son Miguel Lus of Camarines Sur on Monday sought assistance from the national government for more than 80,000 families in 1,306 barangays in the province affected by Rolly.

The Villafuertes also called on the Department of Social Welfare and Development and the National Housing Authority for help, saying Bicol residents are reeling from the “triple whammy” from Rolly, Typhoon Quinta that hit last week and the continuing coronavirus pandemic.

The senior administration congressman said Camarines Sur was the hardest-hit province as Rolly struck with maximum winds of 225 kilometers per hour and gustiness of up to 310 kph.

He said the province’s rice growers have been severely affected as they were about to harvest their crops in the weeks ahead. 

Aside from the Bicol region, areas in Southern Luzon like Batangas were also hit hard by the typhoon. Here are some of the photos to show the devastation caused by Rolly in the province.