Reckoning with ‘Ruby’

Big casualties avoided through massive evacuation

Typhoon “Ruby” (international codename: “Hagupit”) knocked out power in entire coastal provinces, mowed down trees and power lines, and sent more than 650,000 people into shelters, but Filipinos emerged wiser from last year’s devastation by super-typhoon “Yolanda” (“Haiyan”) and reckoned with the storm as it weakened yesterday, leaving no major damage or big casualty figures.

Ruby slammed into Dolores town in Eastern Samar late Saturday and lost strength as it barreled westward across a string of island provinces. It was packing maximum sustained winds of 140 kilometers per hour and gusts of 170 kph, considerably weaker from its peak power but still a potentially deadly storm, according to forecasters.

Reports yet to be verified by the Office of Civil Defense (OCD) said four people had died directly related to Ruby’s onslaught.

The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services (PAGASA) said that typhoon Ruby has slightly weakened with maximum sustained winds of 160 kph near the center and gustiness of up to 190 kph and is forecasted to move west northwest at 15 kph.

A ‘HAGUPIT’ NAMED ‘RUBY’ (EPA) — Filipino residents wade through floodwaters while dodging fallen posts and high-tension wires in Borongan, Eastern Samar, a province directly hit by typhoon ‘Ruby’ (international name: ‘Hagupit’) over the weekend. Inset: A resident tries to salvage belongings from a house torn down by the typhoon, also in Borongan.

PAGASA Weather forecaster Jori Loiz said at 8am yesterday the eye of typhoon Ruby was located at 70 kilometers west northwest of Catbalongan or 85 kilometers southwest of Masbate City.

Between Saturday and today (Monday) typhoon Ruby made six landfalls in Dolores, Eastern Samar (Saturday, between 8 p.m. to 10 p.m.); Masbate province (Sunday, between 8 a.m. to 10 a.m.); Sibuyan Island (Sunday, between 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.); Romblon (Sunday, between 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.); Tablas Island (Sunday, between 8 p.m. to 10 p.m.) and Oriental Mindoro (Monday, between 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.)

PAGASA said there are 48 areas still under public storm warning signal (PSWS).

The areas under signal number 3 (winds of 101 to 185 kph) include Romblon, Catanduanes, Camarines Sur, Albay, Sorsogon, Masbate, Burias Island and Ticao Island in Luzon; Northern Samar, Eastern Samar, Samar province, Leyte and Biliran in the Visayas.

Those under signal number 2 (winds of 61 to 100 kph) include Laguna, Batangas, Camarines Norte, Southern Quezon, Marinduque, Oriental Mindoro and Occidental Mindoro in Luzon; Northern Antique, Aklan, Semirara group of islands, Capiz, Northern Iloilo, Northern Cebu including Cebu City, Bantayan and Camotes Island and Southern Leyte in the Visayas.

Traumatized by super-typhoon “Yolanda’s massive death and destruction last year in the central region that’s being partly whipped by Ruby, more than 650,000 people readily fled to about 1,000 emergency shelters and safer ground.

ZERO CASUALTY TARGET

“At this point it’s good news, we do not have reports of validated, verified and confirmed figures on casualties either in deaths or injuries,” NDRRMC executive director Alexander Pama said in a press briefing.

“Alam naman po natin, sigurado naman yan merong mga nasugatan but as of this hour we don’t have reports of confirmed and validated casualties,” he added.

NDRRMC spokesperson Mina Marasigan, on the other hand, attributed this (reports on zero casualties so far), to prompt government action in implementing preemptive evacuation in areas expected to be hit by Ruby.

DEATHS

In Iloilo, three people reportedly died and three fishermen were reported missing.

According to Jerry Bionat, executive director of Iloilo Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (PDRRMC), 65-year-old Ernesto Baylon of Estancia and one-year-old Thea Rojo of Balasan both died of hypothermia while Jenelyn Castor of Ajuy town died of eclampsia. Rojo came from the evacuation center and brought to the hospital where she died while Baylon and the others died in their houses.

Department of Health Acting Secretary Janette Garin said there were no casulaties who died in evacuation centers. She also mentioned of one who died of heart attack in the midst of typhoon Ruby.

Lt. Commander Dominador Senador III, Iloilo commander of Philippine Coast Guard (PCG-Iloilo), said three fishermen are missing off the coast of Concepcion town.

In Cabadbaran, Agusan del Norte, a miner was killed after a mining tunnel collapsed as heavy rains started to fall late Friday in Sitio Seron, Barangay Del Pilar. Local police identified the fatality as Omar Curantao Lumendas, 38.

EVACUEES

Data released by the NDRRMC indicated that 192,951 families or 902,321 individuals in typhoon affected provinces are beingserved inside and outside evacuation centers.

Western Samar had the biggest number of evacuees, with 54.545 families or 272,725 persons.

In Southern Leyte, reports reaching the NDRRC operations center indicate that 2,352 families or 11,760 persons have been evacuated.

The total number of evacuees, however, could reach one million as latest information from Sorsogon showed that 51,495 families or 229,865 persons from the province have fled their homes because of Ruby. NDRRMC figures placed the number of evacuees in Sorsogon at only 1,022 families or 5,144 persons as of Sunday morning.

Power outages were reported in at least 83 areas in regions 4A, 6, and 8.

TOO CLOSE TO CHRISTMAS

The government, backed by the 120,000-strong military, launched massive preparations to attain a zero-casualty target.

“It’s too early to tell,” Philippine Red Cross Secretary-General Gwendolyn Pang told The Associated Press (AP). “Let’s cross our fingers that it will stay that way. It’s too close to Christmas.”

Nearly a dozen countries led by the United States and the European Union have pledged to help in case of a major disaster, disaster-response agency chief Alexander Pama said.

Authorities were verifying reports of some deaths but none has been confirmed so far, Pama told a news conference.

While authorities have expressed relief so far, they were quick to warn that RubyHagupit was still on course to barrel across three major central islands before starting to blow away Tuesday into the South China Sea.

Several typhoon-lashed eastern villages isolated by downed telephone and power lines were out of contact, Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman said.

THROWBACK TACLOBAN

In Tacloban city, where Haiyan’s tsunami-like storm surges and killer winds left thousands of people dead and leveled entire villages, no deaths have been reported after it was grazed by Hagupit.

Television footage showed shallow floods, damaged shanties and ripped off store signs and tin roofs Sunday, but the city of more than 200,000 people, which earned the pity of the world after last year’s devastation, appeared to have escaped any major damage.

Rhea Estuna, a 29-year-old mother of one, fled to a Tacloban evacuation center as early as Thursday and waited in fear as Hagupit’s wind and rains lashed the school, where she and her family sought refuge. When she peered outside Sunday, she said she saw a starkly different aftermath compared to the horror of Haiyan’s aftermath.

“There were no bodies scattered on the road, no big mounds of debris,” Estuna told AP by cellphone. “Thanks to God this typhoon wasn’t as violent.”

BEST TEACHER

Army troops deployed to supermarkets and major roads in provinces in the typhoon’s path to prevent looting and chaos and clear debris, all of which slowed the government’s response last year.

Unlike in past years, many people readily left high-risk communities now, Soliman said.

“Yolanda was the best teacher of all,” Soliman said. “People did not need much convincing to move to safety. In fact many of them volunteered to go.”

STAY CALM AND VIGILANT

In Manila, President Aquino has ordered authorities to ensure a steady supply of food and other relief assistance in places affected by typhoon Ruby while keeping them on high alert until the powerful storm has passed.

The President also appealed to the public to remain calm and vigilant as Ruby pounds other parts of the country, according to his deputy spokeswoman Abigail Valte.

“The national government continues to be on alert and is constantly monitoring both the ground situation and supply coordination efforts,” Valte said over government radio.

“The President gave them (National Government Frontline Team) specific orders on the quickness and swiftness of damage assessment, at kung ano ho ‘yung mga kailangan nating resources na mailagay doon sa mga areas affected [and determine the resources needed in the affected areas],” Valte added.

Valte also said the government is prepared to tap its contingency and calamity funds in case there is a need to augment existing resources needed for the relief operations following the onslaught of Ruby.

“We’ll know in the coming days. Mayroon pa naman ho tayong contingency fund, mayroon pa ho tayong calamity fund, at ‘yan ho ‘yung mga dahilan kung bakit mayroon ho tayong ganitong mga pondo para makapaglabas po agad, para mabigyan ng ayuda ‘yung ating mga lokal na pamahalaan. So far, wala pa naman nag-augment] [We have the contingency fund, calamity fund and these are the reasons why we have this type of funds so they can be released immediately to provide assistance to local government units. So far, there is no need to augment],” Valte said.

The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) had earlier released P4.69 billion to various government agencies for the Quick Response Funds (QRFs) in anticipation of Ruby’s destructive force. These are standby funds that can be accessed in times of emergencies or disasters.

CLASSES SUSPENDED

The Department of Education (DepEd) has announced the suspension of classes today in several areas.

In its Facebook Page, DepEd announced that there will be no classes in all levels in Cavite, Quezon, Rizal Province, Oriental Mindoro, Camarines Sur, Camarines Norte and Talisay, Lapu Lapu, Mandaue, and Carcar City, all in Region 7.

In Metro Manila, there will also be no classes in Paranaque, Pasay, Navotas, Valenzuela, Pasig City, Muntinlupa, Pateros, Quezo, Makati, Marikina, Mandaluyong, San Juan, Las Pinas and Malabon.

SIGNAL NO. 2 IN MM?

The Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) said that public storm warning signal number 2 may be hoisted in Metro Manila.

Dr. Landrico Dalida of PAGASA said that while the center of typhoon Ruby will not directly hit the metropolis, officials and the residents should still be on alert and should to take necessary precautions.

CLEARING OPERATIONS

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff Gen. Gregorio Pio P. Catapang, Jr. said troops who were earlier deployed for disaster response mission are already conducting clearing of road to pave way for relief operations.

“Our AFP responders are strategically located and are now conducting road clearing operations along the major thoroughfares and more specifically the one in Borongan and Catarman (Eastern Samar),” said Catapang.

Catapang further said that the LT507, a cargo boat, is now in Cebu waiting for the weather to clear so it could bring supplies and materials and other resources needed for Samar and other areas that affected by the typhoon.

MMDA RESPONSE

The Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) has deployed flood control teams and equipment in flood-prone areas in the metropolis.

Emma Quiambao, MMDA Flood Control and Sewerage Management Officer, said they have deployed 162 personnel in flood prone areas in critical areas in the cities of Quezon, Manila, Makati, Pasig, Taguig, Parañaque, Mandaluyong, among others.

The personnel came from the agency’s Flood Control and Sewerage Management Office (FCSMO) and Metro Parkway Clearing Group (MPCG).

The flood control team are ready with floating mobile pumps, submersible pumps, water trucks, trailer pumps, vacuum trucks.

MMDA Chairman Francis Tolentino also said they are now on “red alert”status, prepared to deploy 600 more personnel  for emergency response  and relief operation. (With reports from Chito A. Chavez, Genalyn D. Kabiling, Anna Liza Villas Alavaren, Charina Clarisse L. Echaluce and Roy Mabasa)

by Elena L. Aben and AP

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