Friday, February 29, 2008

Execs want to empty 12 villages in Albay for fear of landslides

LEGAZPI CITY--ALBAY DISASTER OFFICIALS have recommended the immediate evacuation of residents living in 12 landslide-prone villages in the towns of Camalig, Libon, Daraga, Guinobatan and Oas and in this city following more than a week of nonstop rains in Bicol.

Listed as top priorities for evacuation are the villages of Ligban, Gotob and Mina in Camalig; Burabod in Libon; Pinaric, Bogtong and Ligñon Hill in Legazpi City; Kimantong in Daraga, Malabnig in Guinobatan, and Del Rosario and Casinagan in Oas.

To date, around 15,000 people have been evacuated across the province. Five casualties have been reported.

A total of 65,759 families have been “affected” by the floods and landslides.

On Wednesday evening, Gov. Joey Salceda ordered the forming of the Landslide Advance Monitoring Team (LAMT) composed of provincial and regional disaster offices.

The LAMT reported 53 other Albay villages as high-risk areas for landslides. These villages are

Dapdap, Bariis, Mayong, Sugod, Matalibong, Misibis and Joroan in Tiwi town

Ogob and Estancia in Malinao

Sabloyon in Tabaco

Datag, San Jose, Sta. Teresa and Calbayog in Malilipot

Mataas, Tambongon and all villages in Cagraray Island in Bacacay

Salvacion, Alimsog, Buhatan and Kalayukai in Sto. Domingo

Imalnod, Pinaric, Banadero, Banquerohan, Buraguis, San Francisco and Estanza in Legazpi City

Inang Maharong, Malobago, Tinapian, Cawayan, Buyo and Balasbas in Manito

Bogtong and Caracaran in the island town of Rapu-Rapu

Sipi in Daraga

Ilawod, Tinago and Tagoytoy in Camalig

Morera, Batbat and Catomag in Guinobatan

Cuyaoyao and Binodegahan in Pioduran

Tula-Tula, Cullat, Amtic and Tagpo in Ligao City

Sugcad, Cepres and Itaran in Polangui

Caguscos, San Vicente, Talin-Talin and Linao in Libon.

“The safe distance from the base of a mountain slope is at least 2 kilometers,” Salceda said in a text message on Wednesday evening.

He also said the Albay Social Welfare and Development Office had been mandated to coordinate with mayors.

Evacuation is still subject to the local government units’ decisions, although further inspections are being conducted in these areas to see if forced evacuation is necessary, said Jukes Nuñez, PDCC operations officer.

The number of evacuees are also being identified to verify relief requirements, he said.

“After five deaths due to landslides and flash floods even without typhoons, we cannot be complacent. I ask Albayanos to stay alert. Disaster authorities are preparing and not leaving anything to chance,” Salceda said.

At least P220 million in roads, bridges and irrigation systems were damaged during the rains, while at least 3,000 hectares of rice and corn fields have been destroyed.

Agricultural losses were estimated at P74 million.

In Dumaguete City, Negros Oriental Vice Gov. Jose Baldado cited the need for strong leadership to overcome people’s apathy on environmental protection.

Baldado, an advocate of environmental conservation, said most people don’t pay attention to the need to protect the environment until a catastrophe occurs. Ephraim Aguilar, Inquirer Southern Luzon with a report from Romy Amarado, Inquirer Visayas

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Food shortage looms in isolated town

LEGAZPI CITY—HOW TO SUSTAIN the food supply in Manito, a town still isolated for the past six days by landslides from the rest of Albay, is enough reason for worry for Mayor Caesar Daep.

Several portions of the Legazpi-Manito road have been blocked by eight landslides on Thursday.

Gov. Joey Salceda said that without access to commodities that the town normally buys here, Daep had been asking for help to prevent looming hunger.

“Even the mayor admitted to eating cassava. That is why we have launched SOS Manito to address their immediate needs,” Salceda said.

Manito is a fourth-class municipality (annual income: P20 million-P30 million) with a population of 24,000.

On Saturday, the provincial government sent P1.2 million worth of relief goods, consisting of 600 sacks of rice, 250 boxes of sardines, and 600 boxes of noodles.

In a phone interview on Monday, Daep said food packs of five kilograms of rice, five cans of sardines, and seven packs of noodles had been distributed to the families.

Daep said he was worried about the food supply since prices of prime commodities had increased due to transport difficulties.

The products were being delivered by motor boat from the Legazpi port.

“This has drastically increased the prices of commodities, which the townspeople may no longer be able to afford. We really need to restore the road as soon as possible,” Daep said.

Disaster officials and engineers on Monday conducted an aerial inspection as part of their study on how to restore the damaged road network.

Salceda said it might take the government about P17 million to clear and reconstruct the washed-out road sections. “Restoring normal road transportation may take week or even months apart from fund sourcing and procurement,” he said.

Earth cracks

Daep said alternative boat rides for commuters are hardly available during low tide since the Manito port is heavily silted due to the landslides.

In Camalig town, 73 families were evacuated Monday morning after cracks were reported along a road in Barangay Baligang.

Although the cause of the cracks had yet to be identified by the Mining and Geosciences Bureau Bicol office pending area surveys, Salceda theorized that the road could have been saturated with water following a week of continuous rains and floods.

Cracks along a mountain in Barangay Ilawod, also in Camalig, were also sighted, causing the temporary relocation of the villagers, said provincial disaster coordinating council head Cedric Daep.

These incidents occurred in the calmer weather that followed after the nonstop rains, Daep said.

“These post-event hazards are indicative of geomorphological changes. The landscape of Albay is changing because of weather disturbances,” Salceda pointed out.

Aside from Camalig, the provincial government is also closely watching the town of Libon and Sta. Cruz village in Polangui, where aerial surveys showed wide expanses of rice fields still submerged in water.

With the exception of these areas, as well as Manito, decampment of evacuees were ongoing throughout the province.

All roads are now passable in Albay save for the Legazpi-Manito road, reports from the PDCC showed. Ephraim Aguilar and Jaymee T. Gamil, Inquirer Southern Luzon

Saturday, February 23, 2008

8 days of rain force 80,000 people out of homes in Bicol

LEGAZPI CITY--AT least 80,000 people were moved out of their homes in what officials said was preemptive evacuation to keep them out of harm’s way as rains continued to raise flood levels and the likelihood of landslides in Albay.

Officials counted eight landslides in an aerial survey yesterday. These landslides cut all access to Manito, Albay. At least 5,400 families were in dire need of help in the town, the officials said.

‘Mountain angry’

“It was as if the mountain was angry and tried to restore its original shape by filling in the roads with debris,” Albay Gov. Joey Salceda said after he joined the aerial survey.

The regional Office of Civil Defense counted a total of 80,196 people who were evacuated in the region.

Several villages were under threat of lahar, floods and landslides as a result of rains that have been pelting the region for the past eight days.

The province of Albay, Buhi in Camarines Sur and Vinzons in Camarines Norte have been placed in a state of calamity.

SOS Manito

Cedric Daep, executive officer of the Albay Provincial Disaster Coordinating Council, said Manito, Albay was likely to remain inaccessible by two weeks because it would take that much time to clear the debris left by landslides and floods brought by rains that are blocking roads leading to the town.

Salceda launched “SOS Manito” and ordered relief goods sent to the town through a Navy ship.

Little was known of the extent of the devastation wrought on Manito, one of Albay’s poorest towns, before officials saw it from the air, according to Salceda.

“The impact of the landslides became apparent only today when the weather permitted us to conduct an aerial survey,” Salceda said.

Catch basin

He said while Manito appears to be the most devastated, the biggest number of evacuees came from Libon, Albay.

Libon has become a catch basin of floodwater from neighboring towns as it has the lowest elevation in Albay’s third district.

Salceda said his bigger concern was the damage wrought on crops because the floods struck during planting season.

The amount of rain that fell on Albay was the highest in the province without a typhoon, said Salceda.

As of Friday noon, at least 60,000 people were kept in evacuation centers and village halls, schools, chapels, homes and government buildings that turned into shelters.

Aside from those in Manito, officials saw landslides in 19 villages in the towns of Tiwi, Malilipot, Sto. Domingo, Daraga, Bacacay, Pio Duran, and the cities of Tabaco, Ligao, and Legazpi.

Floods were reported in Iriga, San Fernando and Buhi in Camarines Sur; Caramoran and Bato, Catanduanes; San Fernando, Masbate; and Sorsogon City, Juban, Magallanes, Sta. Magdalena and Bulan, Sorsogon.

Calls for help

The freak weather also wreaked havoc in Northern and Eastern Samar, prompting officials there to call for help.

Northern Samar Gov. Raul Daza said people in the coastal towns of Biri, Capul, San Antonio and San Vicente, mostly dependent on fishing, are in need of food.

The rains started in the province Feb. 13, keeping people from going out to sea to fish, their main livelihood.

Communication lines to towns isolated by floods are down, he said. Ephraim Aguilar, Jaymee T. Gamil, Bobby Labalan and Madonna Virola, Inquirer Southern Luzon and Joey A. Gabieta and Cyrain Cabueñas, Inquirer Visayas

Friday, February 22, 2008

Rains to last 3-5 more days in Bicol areas

LEGAZPI CITY--AT LEAST 1,500 FAMILIES have been evacuated Thursday as rains continued to pound areas in Sorsogon, Catanduanes and Albay, bringing floods and landslides, disaster officials said.

The tail end of the cold front continued to bring rains to Southern Luzon and the Visayas for almost a week now.

Domingo Binlayo Sr. was killed in a landslide in Malilipot, Albay, officials reported.

A still unidentified man drowned in floods in a farm in Camalig, Albay.

A fisherman in a boat that sank off the coast Tabaco City was reported missing while Navy divers found a body near Bacacay, Albay on Wednesday.

In Oas, Albay, Salvador Petilla of Barangay San Juan was missing after he was swept away by flood waters.

Jason Aragon, operations officer of the Office of Civil Defense-Bicol, said these reported deaths were still being verified, however.

State of calamity

In Albay, officials were studying if there was a need to place the province in a state of calamity.

Albay Gov. Joey Salceda left it to the discretion of mayors of 15 towns and three cities in the province whether to declare a state of calamity and use 5 percent of their calamity funds.

Salceda said classes in all levels in public and private schools have been suspended.

“The state of readiness of the provincial government is as if there is a calamity but we are not declaring a state of calamity,” Salceda said.

He said authorities issued an advisory for the early evacuation of families living beside rivers or in slopes of mountains not because of lahar but because of flash floods.

Record rainfall

Salceda said as of Wednesday, the accumulated rainfall was already 555 mm, compared to last year’s 88 mm.

“So if the average daily is 120 mm, we might reach 915,” he said.

Salceda said soil saturation was not the only problem, but the amount of rainfall.

He quoted the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration as predicting the rains would last three to five more days.

The OCD reported landslides in Catanduanes but no casualties.

Infrastructure falling

On Tuesday, 14 road sections were blocked by debris in Catanduanes. The Department of Public Works and Highways cleared the sections Wednesday.

Rivers were swollen in Caramoran and Viga towns.

In Viga, landslides were noted in the town proper.

In Legazpi City, 20 families were evacuated to safer ground in the villages due to flooding.

Also in the city and in neighboring town of Daraga, at least eight roads were flooded but still passable. Ephraim Aguilar, Inquirer Southern Luzon

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Villagers rely on rain gauges

STORM-PRONE BICOL NO longer has a weather radar, but disaster officials in Albay are pinning their hopes on small and simple rain gauges to save lives.

At least 13 digital rain gauges have been installed in seven towns and two cities of the province, and 12 more are coming, courtesy of the Social Action Center of the Archdiocese of Legazpi.

Cedric Daep, executive officer of the Provincial Disaster Coordinating Council, said early warning devices would also be given to communities so that information could be relayed fast to the residents.

Disaster officials have been trained to interpret data from the wired rain gauges, which cost almost P7,000 each and placed in municipal halls. The gauges can detect possible landslides, lahar and flooding through a criteria carefully devised by the PDCC.

When the device records rainfall of 1 millimeter per minute, mudflows from Mayon Volcano are likely to occur, Daep said. A 7.2 mm-per-hour rainfall could mean heavy flooding, especially in low-lying areas.

Daep explained that the criteria were based on localized conditions and might not be applicable to other provinces. “We will be testing this system for three years until such time we have perfected the accuracy of our formulated criteria (for data interpretation),” he said.

Since the multimillion-peso weather radar in Catanduanes was destroyed between the late 1980s and the early 1990s, disaster officials have difficulty predicting rain conditions, Daep said.

Moreover, the public storm warning signals being issued by the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa) pertain more to wind conditions, he said.

But Albay is not only vulnerable to strong winds but also to rain-related hazards, like lahar, flooding and landslides, Daep said.

Instead of the people waiting for disaster warnings from the national level, he said, the communities could generate real-time warnings. “Through this system, warning information can be conveyed outright to the affected population,” Daep said.

Readings from the rain gauges have equivalent stages in disaster management, such as alert, preparedness and evacuation levels. Since local conditions can be defined, village officials can order an evacuation and will just have to inform the municipal government and the PDCC for support, Daep said.

The council, however, will still inform local government units of general warnings from national agencies, such as Pagasa.

Updated reports from the PDCC show that lahar risk is high in 28 villages in four towns and one city in Albay. A total of 106 villages, zones and streets in 10 towns and two cities have landslide-prone areas, while 356 villages, zones and streets in 13 towns and three cities have flood-prone areas. Ephraim Aguilar

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Proud brod recalls Jun a crybaby growing up

By Ephraim Aguilar and Jaymee T. Gamil
Inquirer Southern Luzon

LIGAO CITY--A TRICYCLE DRIVER AND sari-sari store owner in Barangay Tinago here would have preferred to remain obscure, especially because his brother, Rodolfo Noel “Jun” Lozada Jr., became a star witness in the scrapped $329-million National Broadband Network (NBN) deal.

On Monday, when his brother appeared on national television for his second appearance at the Senate hearing on the controversial deal, Samson Lozada, 55, said he was moved to tears every time his younger brother cried at the hearing.

Crying at the drop of...

“As a child Jun would cry when we hid his things, when we played jokes on him, or when he lost in our childhood games,” Samson said.

He said he was proud that his brother was exposing the truth. “We could only pray for his safety,’’ he said.

He said it was up to the public to judge his brother. “But one thing I am sure of, we were not raised to become liars,” Samson said.

He expressed the hope that people would be moved by his brother’s revelations.

He described his younger brother as very kind and helpful.

“He was a simple and silent boy,” said Samson, the oldest son and the fifth among the 13 children of Eusebia, now 84 years old, and the late Rodolfo Lozada Sr.

Chinese school in Legazpi

Samson said Jun grew up with the family in Ligao and studied in grade school at Chong Hua, a Chinese school in Legazpi City.

“He was a simple guy in school. He was never boastful and he did not fight anyone, not even his siblings,” Samson said.

He said Jun’s daily life during his childhood revolved around school and the house. “After classes he went home. He carefully chose his friends,” he said.

Samson said he never knew about his brother’s involvement in the controversial deal until he surfaced at a press conference last week.

“The last time we saw each other was last Christmas when one of our siblings died. He would also come home (here in Ligao City) during family occasions but he never mentioned anything about the issue,” he said.

Samson said the family worried about Jun’s safety and feared he might suffer the fate of their sixth sibling, who was killed by policemen due to mistaken identity.

Samson described the Lozadas as closely knit. “We were one family. We were properly raised by our parents. We enjoyed a simple life,” he said.

Drug store

The Lozadas own a drug store and a grocery near City Hall.

“They are good and religious people who are very private. They never got involved in local politics even if they were well-off,” said a public school teacher at the Ligao West Central School, who claimed to be a distant relative of the Lozadas’ but declined to be named.

To the left of City Hall stands a chain of small convenience stores, one of which is said to be managed and named after one of Lozada’s aunts, Paz Imperial.

On Friday afternoon, when Lozada made his first appearance in the Senate, it was evident that the staff of the store was uneasy when queried by reporters about the whereabouts of Lozada’s immediate family.

Mum’s the word

Asked about the Imperial family, they gestured toward an elderly woman at the cash register, who they reluctantly identified as the store owner’s sister and one of Lozada’s aunts.

The chinky-eyed, gray-haired woman curtly gave her name: Lydia.

But when asked if she really was a relative of Lozada’s or if she was familiar with him, she meekly replied in Bicol: “I don’t know’’ and “I don’t know anything about that.’’ All the while she avoided eye contact.

Asked where her sister Paz Imperial was, she said in Bicol: “She is sick.” A salesgirl confirmed this, saying: “She is asleep upstairs.” Both of them, however, refused to have Paz talk to anyone.

Asked where her other relatives were, the elderly woman would reiterate her previous replies, or just shrug and shake her head nonchalantly.

When prodded about Lozada, she would stare at the television set showing a noontime program, and refuse to acknowledge the questions.

She, nevertheless, accommodated customers alertly.

At the mayor’s office, the younger staff could not offer information about Lozada either.

“We heard that Lozada was from around here, but we’re not really familiar with him or his family,” one of them said.