Monday, September 28, 2009

Gloria Arroyo admits government can't cope with disaster

GMA admits gov’t can’t cope with disaster

Daily Tribune 09/29/2009

With the death toll rising to 140 and still counting, along with still too many residents in flood stricken areas remaining unrescued, shivering, wet and hungry, with relief goods yet to reach them, the Arroyo government yesterday admitted that it is unable to cope adequately with Saturday’s disaster, as victims were crammed into makeshift evacuation centers without clean water or medicine, looters roamed and some people remained completely stranded.

Overwhelmed rescue workers battled waist-deep waters and a dire lack of resources in a desperate effort to help nearly half a million flood survivors, as the death toll hit 140, according to official estimates, seen to be on the ultra-conservative side, since local government executives in just their areas have been reporting bigger numbers of deaths.

It is widely expected that the death toll would climb, as local government officials said there were dozens of deaths that were not included in the government’s figures.

The international community also rushed aid, where at least scores were killed and nearly half a million displaced by freak floods.

US Navy commando teams fanned out across the flooded section of eastern Manila and rescued some 52 marooned residents, including one woman in labor, as well as elderly residents and children.

The United States, China, Japan, Singapore and United Nations agencies also raised funds for relief work and to get the capital’s broken health infrastructure working again.

Washington sent $50,000 for the relief efforts, China pitched in $10,000, while Singapore raised $30,000 and a further $20,000 in seed money to jumpstart a donations drive by the Red Cross.

Tokyo, meanwhile, said it would send $220,000 worth of relief goods to the Philippines, where rescue and emergency workers and the health infrastructure have been overwhelmed by the flooding.

In a letter to the Philippines, Japanese Foreign Minister Katsuyo Okada expressed his "heartfelt sympathy" for the loss of life and serious damage to infrastructure in Metro Manila and other regions.

"I was deeply saddened to learn of the loss of life and destruction to property caused by the storm that swept through the central Philippines over weekend," added Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

The UN’s World Health Organization (WHO) meanwhile said those crammed into evacuation centers were at risk of water- and air-borne diseases.

"There is also a greater risk of acute respiratory infection and injuries, (and) wound infection from doing repairs after the floods," the agency said as it announced a 42,000-dollar relief fund.

"Healthcare management is also a priority," it said, while noting that public and private hospitals were flooded and many have become inaccessible.

"Many hospital staff were not able to report for work because of the impact of the floods on their own families and homes," the WHO said.

Meanwhile, humanitarian agency World Vision said it had begun distributing relief packs by helicopter and was assisting the Philippine coastguard.

It said it planned to raise about two million dollars and was appealing for more funds from its donors.

"We are concentrating on massive relief operations. (But) the system is overwhelmed, local government units are overwhelmed," the head of the National Disaster Coordinating Council, Anthony Golez, told reporters.

"Our assets and people are spread too thinly."

The nine-hour deluge left some areas of Metro Manila, a city of 12 million people, under 20 feet of water, with poor drainage systems and other failed infrastructure exacerbating the problem.

Eighty percent of the city was submerged and, with parts of Manila remaining waist-deep in water on Monday, local television reported that some people had spent more than 48 hours stranded on the upper floors or roofs of their homes.

Other areas where flooding had subsided also remained covered in knee-deep sludge.

Adding to the chaos, telephone and power services in some parts of the city were still cut, while local government officials said survivors in makeshift evacuation camps were desperately short of food, water and clothes.

At one open-air gymnasium in eastern Manila, 3,000 people were sheltering in hot and humid conditions alongside the bodies of 11 neighbors lying in coffins.

There was no running water, and human feces lay only a few feet from where people were sleeping on the concrete floor.

In a wealthier part of Manila that was also swamped by the floods, residents raced against looters to retrieve televisions and other valuables, with hardly any sign of police to stop the crime.

Nearby, gangs of men pushing wooden carts went into abandoned homes and emerged with muddied electric fans and television sets.

Health authorities also warned of disease outbreaks and made appeals to the public for donations of medicine, clean water and food, as well as for medics to volunteer their services.

Official reports from the NDCC said that as of yesterday afternoon, 56 deaths were confirmed in Region IV-A or the Calabarzon, 36 in Region III; seven in Metro Manila; and one in Cordillera Administrative Region.

The agency also reported that 32 remain missing and five were injured.

Unconfirmed reports, however, indicated that in Marikina alone about 50 to 70 people have died but the NDCC official count listed only one death only.

The Rizal provincial disaster coordinating council also said they have recorded 84 deaths in the province already but the NDCC official tally mentioned of only about 40 deaths in the province.

PO3 Joshua Brizuela, information officer of the Rizal PDCC, said their record indicated that 21 were injured and 49 others were missing in Rizal. He said they recorded 25 deaths in Tanay town, 13 in Antipolo, 12 in Angono, five in Baras, 10 in Rodriguez, four in Morong, 10 in San Mateo, two in Teresa and one each for Taytay and Cainta.

When asked for the other casualties not reflected in the NDCC tally, Defense secretary and concurrent NDCC chairman Gilberto Teodoro Jr. said: "Some are not tallied because their death has still no certification so we cannot really tally."

Teodoro admitted the NDCC casualty count is expected to go higher, noting that Interior and Local Government Secretary Ronaldo Puno has confirmed 17 deaths in Antipolo alone. The NDCC casualty count did not list any fatality in Antipolo.

As of yesterday, the NDCC also said 89,953 families or 451,683 persons in Region 1, NCR, Region III, Region IV-A, Region IV-B, Region V, Region IX, Region XII, and CAR. Of the figure, 23,147 families or 115,990 persons are in 205 evacuation centers

Teodoro also said the focus now is to conduct massive relief operations for nearly 500,000 people who have been affected by tropical storm Ondoy which battered Metro Manila and adjacent provinces with continuous heavy rains since Friday night

"The general concentration of the NDCC (National Disaster Coordinating Council) is to bring food to the relief centers. "Relief, relief, relief, that is the challenge. Its going to massive," said Teodoro.

Teodoro said the Department of Social Welfare and Development, one of the attached agency of the council, has already set aside P20 million for the relief operations.

"There is going to be probably more needed," said Teodoro, adding that a team had been dispatched yesterday to conduct to assess the effect of Ondoy.

In Metro Manila, Teodoro said the NDCC is providing direct assistance, on top of the assistance being provided by local government units. In the provinces, he said the NDCC is "helping out as much as we can."

On whether the relief operations is the biggest that they are conducting, "The largest that I experienced (as NDCC chair). I do not know before, I think there are bigger (relief operations) like typhoon Yoling," he said, while noting typhoon Yoling that pounded Luzon in 1972.

Teodoro said some residents in areas that are still flooded would not leave their homes gbut now the challenge is to get food especially because they don’t want to leave the areas where they stay.

"We’ll just try to divide our resources as judiciously as possible. We have really to man the evacuation centers and the relief centers that the local governments will establish but beyond that, we will try our best, if possible, to service the people on the roof," he said.

"But the general concentration of the NDCC is to bring food to the relief center. Distribution is a local government duty but we will try to help out as we can," added Teodoro.

Some continue to plead though radio stations about the need to rescue people trapped in their residents.

To those who were not reached by rescue teams, Teodoro said: "We really feel their anger and pain but it is physically impossible to reach each and everyone with the conditions that we face."

He pointed out that the shift to relief operations does not mean that they are abandoning the rescue operations. "The concentration is relief. If there is anybody, for example, somewhere that needs to be rescued, we have to rescue the person," he said. Mario J. Mallari and AFP

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