THE coming days will test Cebu’s preparedness for heavy rains and the possibility of landslides as a tropical depression is expected to hit the Visayas.
The weather bureau warned of heavy rains by Tropical Depression Samuel (international name Toraji) that entered the Philippines at 10 a.m. Sunday, Nov. 18. Warning signals are expected to be raised soon. Unlike recent tropical depressions, this one will pass over Cebu that was spared the wrath of Typhoon Ompong last Sept. 15.
Typhoon Ompong brought death and destruction in the northern part of the country, with 100 deaths, mostly from the landslide that hit Itogon, Benguet.
Five days after Ompong, a massive landslide hit Sitio Sindulan, Barangay Tina-an in the City of Naga, Cebu, that left at least 70 people dead. Although Cebu was not in Ompong’s path of destruction, the typhoon brought heavy rains that contributed to the landslide. Families of victims said, however, that activities of the Apo Land and Quarry Corp. (ALQC), more than the rains, triggered a cracked hillside to collapse into several homes.
Since the Naga landslide, people started to be vigilant and anxious. A crack at the mountain top in Sitio Sandayong, Barangay Buhisan in Cebu City led residents to call on local officials to relocate them. With the Naga incident still fresh, Buhisan residents said they would rather be paranoid than sorry at the end.
The landslide watch in Naga continues to this day.
This heightened vigilance came at a price for Cebu based on the Naga landslide death toll and homeless families. It is to honor the memory of the dead that government and community must act, and act fast, to prevent a repetition of the tragedy.
One lesson from the Naga incident was the urgency of relocating residents when there is danger of flashfloods or landslides. Bureaucracy or decision-making procedures of government should not stand in the way of saving lives. With Tropical Depression Samuel in the midst, there should be no more second thought about moving residents currently in danger.
Another lesson, one that President Rodrigo Duterte harped on during his visit to the landslide victims’ evacuation center, was for residents to move out of their homes once they are told to do so. Some residents may disagree because they believe the ALQC, not the rain, was to be blamed. But they still have to move if they are told to evacuate.
One other learning was the need for quarry companies to be responsible for the environment and the people directly threatened by the effects of their businesses. This is the area most difficult to resolve as government policy and business interests may clash.
For those in the city, evacuation might not be as urgent as ordering the suspension of classes and work to keep people from getting stranded or caught in the rain. Drainage systems have to be prepared and essential personnel must be on hand.
The next days will be a test of how prepared Cebu is after failures in the past.
November 19, 2018
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