Safety, need compete in typhoon-hit Philippines

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Friday, December 7, 2012

COMPOSTELA VALLEY – The government's geological hazard maps showed that the farming community in this province was largely washed away by Typhoon “Pablo” (international codename: Bopha) because the area is highly susceptible to flooding and landslides.

Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) Director Leo Jasareno said about 80 percent of the valley is a danger zone due to a combination of factors, including the mountains and rivers, as well as logging that has stripped hills of trees that minimize landslides and absorb rainwater. Logging has been banned since last year's fatal flooding, but it continues illegally.

The MGB had issued warnings to people living in flood-prone areas before the typhoon, but in the Compostela Valley, nearly every area is flood-prone.


People stay because the land is rich in natural resources, including timber and gold, which is dug by small-scale miners.

"It's not only an environmental issue, it's also a poverty issue," said Environment Secretary Ramon Paje.

"The people would say, 'We are better off here. At least we have food to eat or money to buy food, even if it is risky,’” said Paje.

"But somehow we would like to protect their lives and if possible give them other sources of livelihood so that we can take them out of these permanent danger zones," Paje said.

Pablo has left at least 331 dead and hundreds more injured and missing as it slowly exits the country, the state disaster agency said Thursday afternoon.

In the Davao region alone, at least 298 fatalities were recorded, mostly from the provinces of Davao Oriental and Compostela Valley where flashflood and mudslide incidents were reported, according to the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC).

Typhoon Pablo victims
This photo released by the Philippine Army's 10th Infantry Division on Thursday shows an aerial view of houses damaged by flashfloods caused by Typhoon Pablo in Compostela Valley province. (AP photo)

Most of the people confirmed dead were killed in the steep mountain valley that includes New Bataan, a town crisscrossed by rivers and cleared from lush hillsides by banana, coconut, cocoa and mango farmers in 1968.

Nearly 80 villagers and soldiers died in the New Bataan village when the flashflood swamped the two emergency shelters and a military camp.

More than 400 people remained missing Thursday after the typhoon struck the southern Philippines this week.

After a night of pounding rain, floodwaters started rising around 4 a.m. Tuesday, trapping farmer Joseph Requinto, his wife and two young children in their house near a creek.

"The water was as high as a coconut tree," Requinto said. "All the bamboo trees, even the big ones, were all mowed down."

Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, who visited New Bataan on Wednesday, saw the town covered in 15 centimeters (6 inches) of mud. He was told by townspeople that a pond or a small lake atop the mountain collapsed, causing torrents of water to rampage like a waterfall.

"There is hardly any structure that is undamaged in New Bataan town," he said. "Entire families may have been washed away."

At least five bodies were jammed beneath a mound of felled trees that were swept down from the hills, with no sign that anyone had attempted to retrieve them.

Dozens of people stared blankly at their devastated town as they waited at a government information center, hoping for word of missing relative.

Authorities planned to display about 80 newly washed bodies in coffins at a Roman Catholic church Friday, hoping relatives will identify them.

The NDRRMC said Pablo has so far left a total of P180.5 million cost of damages to infrastructure, agriculture, and private properties.

The agency added that the provinces of Surigao del Sur, Davao Oriental and Compostela Valley were declared under state of calamity.

Pablo has damaged a total of 4,704 houses and affected six bridges and 15 roads while knocking out communication lines and power and water supply in several areas in Mindanao.

Vice President Jejomar Binay, meanwhile, told local executives, police and military not to allow residents displaced by the typhoon to return to their homes in areas classified as danger zones.

Binay relayed this instruction from President Benigno Aquino III in his meeting Thursday with local officials in Compostela Valley, Davao Oriental and Surigao del Sur. These provinces bore the brunt of the storm, which is now on its way out of the country.

On Thursday, residents armed with hammers began to repair devastated homes and wash their muddy belongings, taking advantage of the sunny weather.

Typhoon Pablo victims
A man prepares to build a temporary shelter on Thursday, Dec. 6, after Typhoon Pablo hit Montevista town, Compostela Valley in southern Philippines. (AP photo)

The President said he could not hide his disappointment and sadness over the calamity that left at least 300 people dead and dozens others missing.

However, he assured that the government is doing everything to search and retrieve the bodies of missing victims.

He also vowed to reinforce the country's disaster preparedness to ensure zero-casualty in times of disaster.

State weather forecasters said Typhoon "Pablo" is set to leave the Philippines on Friday but in a slow pace. It was last spotted some 400 kilometer west of Coron, Palawan.

Moving west northwest at seven kilometers per hour (kph), Pablo is packing maximum sustained winds of 120 kph and gustiness of up to 150 kph, the Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration said. (AP/Emmanuel Louis Bacani/Virgil Lopez/Jill Beltran/Sunnex)

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