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NOTES FROM GROUND ZERO | LGUs really have to rely on each other during disasters

Posted on: December 3, 2013

It seems like during disasters in the Philippines, you cannot rely on the national government to help you out immediately. Standard response time is around five days or so–and to think that national government officials were already in your midst even before the calamity struck.

Well it’s a good thing Filipinos are friendly with their neighbors kaya love thy neighbors ha because they will be the one who would check up on you when you get in trouble. This has been proven true right after Typhoon ‘Yolanda’ hit Tacloban City in Leyte on November 8.

I had a nice chat about this with the Catbalogan Volunteer Fire Brigade tonight as they related their experiences of being the first rescue team to set foot on Tacloban after the city became something out of World War Z or Twilight Zone.

A day before Yolanda hit, the Catbalogan bomberos helped in rounding up people living in the coastal villages of Samar’s capital to lead them to various evacuation centers. Then they waited for the worst. And waited. When they realized that the storm has already passed by Friday noon, they thought they could already heave a sigh of relief.

Oh boy, they were dead wrong.

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A driver of the Philippine National Red Cross came running to Catbalogan, seeking assistance, saying that Tacloban was heavily damaged, beyond compare.

That afternoon, the bomberos, together with the city government, volunteer civic radio enthusiasts Kabalikat Civicom and rural health unit, had repacked relief goods intended for their own evacuees to give to those who were in Tacloban. On Saturday, 24 hours after Yolanda ravaged Region 8, the Catbalogan emergency rescue team saw the unspeakable horrors that they wish they would never see again in their lifetimes. Clearly, whatever relief they brought with them would not be enough for thousands hungry, weak and grieving fellow Warays.

It was the first time, they claimed, that a team from somewhere had come to the city. They had the Philippine Army with them to clear the debris and make way for their relief trucks, fire trucks and ambulance. Dead bodies were everywhere. Sick babies inside the NICU of hospitals were dying one by one because nobody was left to take care of them. Many heartbreaking stories were told to me that I had already erased from my mind because they hurt too much.

These firefighters were the first ones who extricated people out of the rubble which used to be their homes. Their potable water and food weren’t enough for those who have come to them begging for anything to sustain them. Even the bomberos’ own food supply was gone because they had to feed the children who have come to them for help. At the end of their 2-day stay, the bomberos had nothing left to eat nor drink. And they were stuck in Tacloban longer than expected because some roads were impenetrable. It took them 13 hours to get out of Tacloban City, whereas normally it only takes 2.5 hours to reach Catbalogan.

The general rule is rescuers or emergency responders must never let their own supplies get depleted because without them, who would help the helpless? But in this case, this rule must be broken. Your conscience will beat you to a pulp because the image of begging children would forever burn in your mind.

The Catbalogan bomberos went back to their city to replenish their water and food supplies but as God would have it, the team was diverted  to their neighbors in Basey and Marabut, which were also as badly damaged as Tacloban. Basey is just across Tacloban, separated by a narrow channel between the main islands of Samar and Leyte. It’s a good thing also that Team Albay already arrived in Tacloban the following day to take over the emergency rescue and relief operations in Tacloban.

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So in your hour of need, who would you call? Your ever dependable neighbors. Because you’ll never know if and when the national government would come to your rescue. Because politicking is more important than saving lives, or so it seemed.

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life in business journalism

crazy. exciting. boring to some but hey, you get to understand the world better when you're a business journalist. you learn to be patient with tons of documents, make sense of numbers and charts. all geeky stuff. this is my story, behind the scenes.
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