Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Where is sanctuary when the earth shakes?

Saving soul and skin. The Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral is one of nine churches under the Archdiocesan Commission for the Cultural Heritage of the Church that have been restored after the 2013 Bohol and Cebu earthquake. With better structural integrity, these churches are now being eyed as possible evacuation centers during disasters. (SunStar Foto / Allan Cuizon)

TOMORROW marks the fifth anniversary of the 7.2 magnitude earthquake in 2013 that hit Bohol and Cebu, killing 227 people in Central Visayas. Is Cebu better prepared today for another big temblor?

Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office (PDRRMO) Chief Baltazar Tribunalo said each local government unit (LGU) already has pre-designated evacuation areas that are earthquake-proof, and disaster response has greatly improved.

He said there are evacuation centers in Medellin, Camp Lapu-Lapu, Asturias, Carmen, Bantayan Island, and there is one undergoing construction in Sibonga. Aside from these evacuation centers, churches, gyms and schools are still used as evacuation centers.

Tribunalo considers churches among the best options as evacuation centers since many of the churches have been retrofitted.

“There are strong structures like the churches that have been retrofitted, like the (Cebu Metropolitan) Cathedral, and the (Basilica Minore del) Sto. Niño that were affected by the earthquake,” Tribunalo said in a mix of Cebuano and English.

The Augustinian friars and the National Historical Commission of the Philippines took care of the restoration of the Basilica, which had lost part of its belfry in the quake.

Fr. Brian Brigoli, chairman of the Cebu Archdiocesan Commission for the Cultural Heritage of the Church, said nine churches under the Archdiocesan Commission, on the other hand, had suffered minor and major damage from the quake, and they had all been restored.

The restored churches are the Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral, Sto. Tomas de Villanueva Church in Pardo, St. Catherine of Alexandria Church in Carcar, Nuestra Señora del Pilar de Zaragoza Parish in Sibonga, San Guillermo Parish Church in Dalaguete, St. Michael the Archangel Church in Samboan, Nuestra Señora de Patrocinio Church in Boljoon, San Miguel Archangel Parish in Argao and St. Francis of Assisi in Dumanjug. The Sts. Peter and Paul Parish in Bantayan, not damaged by the quake but by typhoon Yolanda, has also been restored.

However, Fr. Brigoli said he cannot assure that these rehabilitated churches are earthquake-proof because for him, certain churches have limitations, and these limitations can only be tested when another earthquake hits Cebu again.

He said they had not received any formal request from local governments yet to use the churches as evacuation centers.

Fr. Brigoli said the rehabilitation was well funded by the national government. The problem is continuing the restoration and rehabilitation of the churches even if they are not yet destroyed by an earthquake.

New buildings

Aside from churches, Tribunalo also identified the new school buildings of the Department of Education 7 as earthquake-proof and following the National Building Code. However, he said schools would be the last option for use as evacuation centers.

“It will complicate the issue on the right to education of the children. If possible, that would be the last option. In Naga, we used the gym first,” Tribunalo said.

Last Sept. 20, a landslide in Sindulan, City of Naga, Cebu buried houses, killing 78 people and displacing some 7,500 people, who were housed in 11 evacuation centers that included a gym, a sports complex, an activity center, a church and schools in the city and neighboring San Fernando town.

Tribunalo cautioned that Cebu’s earthquake-proof structures do not guarantee 100 percent security since it would also depend on how long the structures can withstand a high-intensity earthquake.

The PDRRMO plans to hire structural engineers to ensure the integrity of the structures, but as of now it has civil engineers doing the assessment of the structures.

Under international standards, each person should be given a three-meter personal space in an evacuation center. But Tribunalo said the Philippines does not follow these standards due to limited space in evacuation centers.

He pointed out that every family in an evacuation area should have privacy, a breastfeeding area and a water station. They try their best to provide these to the evacuees. That is why when an evacuation center becomes congested, Tribunalo transfers some families to churches, schools and barangay halls.

Second home

Tribunalo said evacuation centers can be home-based.

“It could be a house because we also have a home-based adopt-a-family program in case of identified risks or hazards like typhoons,” said Tribunalo.

This home-based evacuation program is a voluntary act of kindness where families not affected by the calamity offer their homes to the victims of a calamity. The communities that adopted this program in northern Cebu are Bantayan, Sta. Fe, Madridejos, Medellin and Bogo, while almost all LGUs in southern Cebu are adopting the same practice.

As for tsunami towers, Tribunalo said none had been identified since Cebu has not experienced a tsunami, being surrounded by other islands.

Better response

In regard to disaster response, Tribunalo said there had been much improvement.

“I think the operation in Naga is one of the very successful ones because of the training: our capacity training, especially on the ICS (Incident Command System interoperability) approach wherein whoever arrives first will be the incident commander, and whoever has the capacity will be the center, and then we really follow the whole government or the whole community approach,” Tribunalo said.

But the PDRRMO admitted that its capacity to respond to a disaster would depend on the severity of the calamity. In the Naga landslide, he said many responders from different provinces helped in the search, rescue and retrieval operation.

In terms of the availability of equipment for search and rescue, the PDRRMO has enough facilities. He said canines arrived on the first day of the search, rescue and retrieval operation in Naga.

The Coast Guard District Central Visayas deployed a Search and Rescue K9 team, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council’s incident report showed.

Responders undergo at least five days of training. The PDRRMO offers specific trainings: school-based, community-based, water search and rescue, and high and low rescue operations.

The PDRRMO has some 700 trained rescuers with certification and 5,000 trained individuals without certification from different levels. Tribunalo said they also include in their training persons with disabilities.

But gaps remain in Cebu’s disaster preparedness.

While all LGUs already have disaster risk officers, Tribunalo is unsure how capable, equipped and serious they are about their role. He revealed that it came to a point when they forced LGUs to be trained in disaster management.

“To me, it’s stupidity if the LGUs will not be serious about disaster risk management after all these advocacies from the media. To me, they are accountable to the people,” he said. With CTL


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