Forced evacuation to be enforced as new storm threatens northern Luzon

ITOGON, Benguet — Authorities in Cordillera will implement a forced evacuation on geohazard and landslide-prone areas in Itogon and the whole region, after the weather bureau announced that a new storm threatens northern Luzon.

Cordillera Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council (CDRRMC) chairman and Office of Civil Defense Cordillera (OCD-CAR) Regional Director Ruben Carandang on Saurday said the council is “on red alert, (but is) 100 percent ready to implement our contingency plans.”

He said according to Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA), Baguio and Benguet are again threatened by tropical storm “Trami” (international name) which will be named “Paeng” when it enters the Philippine Area of Responsibility (PAR) by Sunday afternoon or evening.

Carandang said according to PAGASA, the area covered by “Trami” will be as big as “Ompong,” and will reach soil by Tuesday.

“Being on red alert at may paparating na naman na bagyo (there’s an incoming typhoon), si Paeng, the only difference is we will strictly implement forced evacuation if they do not want to leave their areas,” Carandang said.

He said the Cordillera region has learned huge lessons from typhoon “Ompong,” which recorded numerous deaths aside from the scores of persons still missing to date.

I anticipate na lessons learned na ito eh, wala na siguro dyan magpapasaway na umalis sa kanilang lugar (This is a lesson learned, maybe there will be no more hard-headed people who will refuse to vacate their areas),” Carandang said.

He said “contingency plus more on forced evacuation” are being laid out, with the assistance of the PNP [Philippine National Police], kagawads (councilors), barangay captains, and the local DDRMC affected.

“Once the MGB [Mines and Geosciences Bureau] declares that an area is (a) very dangerous area, we will implement forced evacuation.”

In earlier briefings, Itogon Mayor Victorio Palangdan said residents in Ucab have repeatedly been urged to evacuate, but the people would refuse.

Carandang said the time for people to evacuate, or for the local government unit to impose pre-emptive or forced evacuation, will depend on PAGASA’s report.

“We will rely on PAGASA because they have a system, a threshold based on the amount of rainfall that will increase the possibility of landslide. PAGASA and MGB will be very important in our contingency plan,” Carandang explained.

Police Regional Office Cordillera (PRO-COR) Regional Director, Chief Supt. Rolando Nana, said people in highly vulnerable areas where a huge possibility of damage is seen will be forced to be moved out.

Kaya nga ito ay patulung-tulungan para mailikas ang mga ‘yan doon sa safe area. Nananawagan kami sa mga mamamayan na makipagtulugan, huwag matigas ang ulo pag masabihan (Let us help each other in evacuating people to safe grounds. We are calling on our residents to cooperate and not be hard-headed when they are told to evacuate),” Nana said.

Meanwhile, Presidential Adviser on Political Affairs Secretary Francis Tolentino, in a coordination meeting here Saturday, noted the need to “rush” in rescuing survivors and retrieving bodies of persons buried under tons of mud after a landslide took place here.

As of 6 p.m. Friday, the CDRRM has recorded 59 deaths due to “Ompong,” with 42 others still missing in the whole town of Itogon, Benguet.

“We are raising against time,” Tolentino said.

No man’s land

Liza Soccoro Manzano, supervising science research specialist of the MGB Geohazard Assessment team, said the area in Ucab where the landslide took place and other areas, which was used as the incident command post for the operation at ground zero, is highly dangerous.

Lumalaki ang mga crack (the cracks are getting big) that is why we have advised that we prevent people from going to the area,” she said.

On the site, cracks on rip-raps protecting the sides of the mountain, which were not present during the first days of the operation, have become more visible day by day.

One crack, for instance, is now about two inches wide with several other cracks becoming visible.

With “Trami” expected to be felt in the locality, she said there should be no person in the area to prevent a repeat of the incident here.

She said even vehicles were prevented from going to the area, saying the vibration and weight contribute to susceptibility of the mountain to erosion, adding that nobody should be allowed entry.

Manzano said the amount of rainfall that “Trami” brings may aggravate the situation.

The recommendation from the MGB prompted the Search, Rescue and Retrieval (SSR) operation, the incident commander as well as the CDRRMC, to cut down on the number of people pursuing the operation.

Rescue, retrieval efforts

Meanwhile, Brig. Gen. Leopoldo Imbang,commander of the 503rd Brigade covering the Cordillera, said there are only 30 persons doing the SSR at level 070. They are aided by five canine dogs and four backhoes doing the digging.

Imbang said the bunk house, the one used as a chapel where the residents allegedly sought refuge before “Ompong” made a landfall, had been removed. However, only six bodies were recovered.

Right now, the digging is going towards the portal where officials believe the people could have run into when the soil started to shake.

Carandang said they believe that the people could have run inside the tunnels.

Manzano, meanwhile, said they have installed a ground-penetrating radar to look underground.

“We (see) some (that) appears to be tunnels but we need another equipment that can see or detect bodies or people inside those tunnels,” she said.

Manzano has asked the Benguet Corporation to help them by providing the map of the underground area, which they will use to determine whether there is oxygen inside. She also asked the small-scale miners to help them in mapping the tunnels.

“We need help, we are racing with time,” she said.

Jady Naboye, a small-scale miner, who was asked to share how they locked the gates of the portal of the main mine tunnel, said nobody could have entered the tunnel as it was locked. He said a guard was left to make sure that nobody will enter its premises.

He said from the portal, there are secret tunnels inside, which only the miners know.

The same information was relayed by mayor Palangdan, who expressed doubts that the people could have gone inside the tunnels.

Itogon and the whole province of Benguet has a basic rule that prohibits any miner from going in the mine tunnel when there is rain due to several incidents of gas poisoning in the past.