TACLOBAN CITY—The number of people seeking refuge in evacuation centers began to swell in Tacloban City Friday as typhoon Ruby hurtled toward Eastern Visayas and was expected to make landfall by Saturday.
By Friday afternoon, some 524 families had fled to the Anibong Elementary School, one of the identified evacuation centers located on higher ground.
Last year when super typhoon Yolanda struck, the coastal village of Anibong was hit by storm surge so powerful that at least five ships were grounded inland, but those who ran to the school were saved.
Some 1,168 people from eight villages sought refuge in the state-run Leyte Normal University in downtown Tacloban, and arrivals continued to swell by the hour.
“We are actually prepared for 1,300 people. We have also prepared spaces for LNU families. We have plans in case water will rise... All guards and even janitors are on the premises,” said Clemelle Montallana, a professor now in charge of occupancy and crowd control.
Montallana added the university formed an emergency assistance group composed of LNU employees under the supervision of university president Jude Duarte.
Tacloban Mayor Alfred Romualdez earlier announced that the city’s forced evacuation has been ongoing, and urged those who did not live in the city to leave while they still had time.
Romualdez added that heavy equipment had been positioned in strategic areas in the city, and that security was being augmented in commercial centers.
Army Maj. Gen. Jet B. Velarmino, Commander of the 8th Infantry Division based in Samar, said his troops have been in a red alert since Thursday, and were in constant coordination with the Office of the Civil Defense in the region.
Tactical units in the field are also closely working with the local government units’ disaster management councils in carrying out plans to mitigate the possible effects of the super typhoon within their respective localities.
“Contingency planning with the different concerned agencies are being undertaken should Ruby trigger flash floods and landslides in their areas of operation. The primary objective here is zero casualties,” Velarmino said.
Soldiers from the 8th Infantry Division were among the first responders last year after super typhoon Yolanda struck.
Since Wednesday, the division had deployed rescue personnel, mobility assets, communication equipment and field ambulances in Tacloban, Leyte, and in Borongan and Guiuan, the same areas badly hit in last year’s super typhoon.
In Manila, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council announced it had readied 27 Navy ships and 12 military aircraft for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief support.
The weather Friday remained calm.
At 8 a.m. Friday, the weather bureau said Ruby was 450 kilometers east of Borongan, Eastern Samar, with maximum sustained winds of 215 kilometers per hour near the center and gustiness of up to 250 kilometer per hour.
Romualdez said the suspension of classes on Thursday enabled students who were not from the city to return to their respective provinces early.
“People have to realize that [in] Tacloban... our population is bigger in the daytime because we have four big universities, and 80 percent of the students are not from here,” he said.
Romualdez also thanked private companies for letting their workers seek shelter early.
“You might be criticized for overkill, but we cannot take any chances. For those who still have the chance to leave the city, I am asking them to leave now. We will take care of those who cannot take care of themselves,” Romualdez said.
Romualdez also played down reports on panic buying in the city, saying many of those who trooped to the stores to buy up goods were mostly from outside Tacloban.
He also denied that stores were closed.
“The stores and malls were open yesterday and are open today,” Romualdez said Friday.
Earlier, Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said the government is adopting all necessary measures to ensure the safety of people who are in the path of typhoon Ruby.
“We urge our people to follow the guidance of their local disaster councils that are fully supported by the national government,” Coloma said in a phone message.
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