A LARGE number of evacuees started to return home Sunday, hours after typhoon Ruby swept through Samar and Leyte provinces, leaving at least six people dead, according to the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council.
As Ruby barreled through Masbate which was placed under a state of calamity, it weakened but could bring heavy rains and strong winds.
The provincial disaster office of Region 6 said three people died of hypothermia in Iloilo province and another person died in Eastern Samar, which bore the initial brunt of Ruby’s fury. A couple died after a coconut tree fell on their shanty in Taft town.
In Romblon province, some 4,500 residents on several islands faced the prospect of going hungry after the typhoon cut off sea transport, hampering the delivery of food and medical supplies to evacuees there.
Sibale Mayor Limuel Cipriano suggested an emergency airdrop by the Air Force five days after the operation of pump boats was suspended. Some 104 bags containing six kilos of rice and cans of sardines sent by the Social Welfare Department remained on the shores of Pinamalayan in Oriental Mindoro because they missed the last pump boat.
Ruby roared to Yolanda ravage areas in the Visayas region, ripping out trees and toppling electrical posts and leaving entire provinces without power.
Transmission facilities in the Visayas were the hardest hit Sunday with 21 plants damaged.
In South Luzon, six transmission lines in Quezon and Sorsogon provinces also went down.
The National Grid Corporation of the Philippines said necessary precautions have been taken to minimize the impact of the storm on its operation and facilities.
These include ensuring the availability of materials and supplies needed to repair damaged facilities, and positioning line crews in strategic areas to facilitate restoration work.
The DSWD’s Cabrera said a number of evacuees may soon leave the evacuation centers, as Ruby moved out of Samar and Leyte toward Southern Luzon.
As of Sunday 6 a.m., some 146,875 families or 716,639 individuals had been moved from their homes to evacuation centers.
Armed Forces chief Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr. said planes and choppers and ground troops were dispatched to Borongan and Catarman to assess the aftermath of Ruby.
Ruby made landfall in Borongan past 9 p.m. Saturday.
“Air assets have been dispatched today to assess the situation in Borongan ang Catarman. These areas were the first to be devastated by Ruby,” Catapang said.
He said 8th Infantry Division commander Maj. Gen. Jet Velarmino has also sent troops to assess the situation and clear the way for the entry of relief and clearing operations.
“Our relief vessel, the LT507 of the Navy, is now bringing the needed supplies to the devastated areas,” Catapang said.
He said at least 11 countries have pledged support for the typhoon victims, including Japan, Australia, United States, United Kingdom, Brunei, Malaysia, and China.
As of late Sunday afternoon, Ruby’s intensity dropped from 185 kph to 140 kph, and its diameter shrank from 700 kilometers to 500 kilometers and picked up speed to 15 kph after lashing Masbate, Romblon and parts of Bicol.
In Masbate and Romblon, Ruby unleashed heavy rains that submerged low-lying areas while mud flows from a mining site cascaded to populated communities in Albay. River channels overflowed due to the relentless downpour.
In Butuan City, 61 of 347 evacuation centers closed as more than 5,000 evacuees began returning to their homes Sunday.
The Social Welfare Department’s Caraga office said only 286 evacuation centers remained active, with about 10,967 families or 45,348 people still sheltering there.
Some 20,000 relief packs were distributed in five provinces, the office added.
The Civil Aviation Authority said Sunday Tacloban airport was open on a limited basis for military aircraft and planes bringing in relief. Operations were normal in Kalibo, Bacolod, Iloilo, Mactan, and Dumaguete airports. Airports in Caticlan, Naga, Legaspi and Catamaran were closed.
Philippine Air Lines and Cebu pacific Air canceled several flights particularly those in the typhoon’s path.
The Palace said that both the national and local governments were better prepared after the bitter lessons from Yolanda last year.
“It is better to err on the side of prudence and on the side of caution. We cannot afford to lose loved ones just because we did not take the warnings seriously,” deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said.
“I think our LGUs are also more prepared now, although we acknowledge that typhoon Ruby is not yet over. But so far, it appears our LGUs are better prepared this time,” she added.
Valte said President Benigno Aquino III has given specific orders on the need for quick damage assessment so that resources can be mobilized in the affected areas.
Aquino drew flak last year for the government’s slow response to the needs of Yolanda survivors. A master plan for the rehabilitation of Yolanda-affected areas was approved a full year after the super typhoon devastated Eastern Visayas.
“The President wanted to make sure that there is no letup in our vigilance, in our actions to continue to assist the LGUs on the ground that are affected,” Valte said.
Valte said the Department of Trade and Industry has been working to ensure the steady flow of goods to affected areas.
“Secretary Gregory Domingo has been coordinating with suppliers to restore the stock of necessities such as sardines, noodles, candles, and matches. In addition, some manufacturers have already pledged to enable the faster roll-out of Diskwento Caravans, offering their goods at discounted prices,” she said.
“Having gleaned lessons from our typhoon Yolanda experience, the DTI will roll out the caravans as soon as possible, whenever the weather permits,” Valte added.
Days after Yolanda struck last year, survivors were forced to turn to looting for food and medicine amid the slow delivery of relief and first aid kits.
This time around, Valte said there have been no reports yet of any looting in areas battered by typhoon Ruby.
She said the Department of Social Welfare and Development still has 53,375 food packs in its national warehouse in Pasay City that can be sent to areas that need augmentation of relief goods.
Data from the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council showed that some 146,875 families have been evacuated in Regions IV-A, IV-B, V, VI, VII, VIII, and Caraga.
The Budget Department already earmarked P4.69 billion in standby and quick response funds before typhoon Ruby made landfall over the weekend.
The Trade Department immediately deployed price monitoring teams—specifically in Regions VI, VII and VIII where typhoon Ruby was expected to hit the hardest—to closely monitor the prices of basic and prime goods.
The President ordered the DTI to intensify its price monitoring efforts to ensure that prices of basic and prime goods are within the suggested retail prices and to guarantee the continuing flow of goods. – With Alvin T. Guanzon, Eric Apolonio, Alena Mae S. Flores, Robert A. Evora, and Othel V. Campos
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