SAN FERNANDO, Bukidnon (MindaNew/11 December) – Past floods failed to force farm laborer Nelson Lumilang, 24, to leave his house along the bank of Tigua River.
But when ‘Pablo’s’ heavy rains poured on December 4, the overflowing river washed out his house along with 34 others in Tumawas village.
“If we didn’t take the advice, we could have perished,” the father of two said in a corner of the municipal gymnasium here where they sought refuge. He cited that the decision to leave started with reports on the radio and personal warning from local authorities.
Lumilang belonged to the 31,261 families in the province who fled on account of preemptive evacuation, according to the report of the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (PDRRMC).
The PDRRMC cited however that 12, 454 families evacuated only when the typhoon had hit the province or after it had left.
Arsenio Alagenio, PDRRMC operations officer, said in his December 7 report to the Office of the Civil Defense (OCD) that preemptive evacuation in the province saved lives from the fury of “the worst typhoon to hit the province so far.”
Except for those in Valencia City’s river banks, he added, Bukidnon’s local disaster risk reduction and management councils (DRRMC) were “successful in conducting preemptive evacuation in high risk areas.”
Alagenio noted in his report that people living along Valencia’s river banks “were not afraid of flood waters after [being given] warning” until the water’s depth increased by three feet.
The council recommended forced evacuation in case another disaster occurs.
It was the first time that Bukidnon was placed under Storm Signal No. 3. The province was placed under Storm Signal No. 2 during tropical storm ‘Sendong’ in December 2011.
The PDRRMC noted that their operation center and rescue teams were on alert 24/7 even before the typhoon came.
As of December 7, the council reported four casualties from the province, including a six-year old boy from San Isidro, Valencia City who was hit by an uprooted coconut tree while fleeing for safety.
Lumilang told MindaNews he initially hesitated to vacate as they were able to manage the past floods on Tigua River, a tributary of the Pulangi River.
“The water reached our house but it never bothered us before,” he added.
When local police officers knocked on their door to warn them of the typhoon and the possibility of flood they conceded.
“We know this was something already and there was nothing we could do to stop it,” added Lumilang, who lives about 30 meters from the river bank. His neighbors built houses along the bank.
As the warning to evacuate reached the town, residents were asked to go to the main road where a truck transported them to the evacuation center in nearby Barangay Halapitan.
When the typhoon hit Bukidnon around 11a.m. heavy rains poured, the Tigua swelled and swept the 35 houses along or near its banks. The house owners were already in the evacuation center.
The PDRRMC noted, however, that the conduct of preemptive evacuation was difficult due to the resistance of many families.
Alagenio added that despite the previous occurrences of disasters, people continued to occupy areas that are prone to flashflood, erosion, and landslide.
“Affected inhabitants were not (even) supportive during rescue operations,” he added.
Capt. Alejandro Larosa , Valencia CDRRMC operations officer, said they encountered such problem with the residents of the city’s 20 flood-prone areas.
“But these are the same people who seek to be rescued at the eleventh hour,” he said.
Valencia City Mayor Leandro Jose Catarata noted that the concept of preemptive evacuation is not easy to introduce to the community, saying it would take time for the people to appreciate it.
The PDRRMC also cited lack of lifesaving equipment such as rubber boats and chainsaws.
One of the two rubber boats of Valencia’s CDRRMC was not functional during the rescue operations.
Alagenio said the provincial government has only one rubber boat for its five rescue teams.
Also, more chainsaws were needed to cut fallen and uprooted trees, which landed on the roads and properties. The PDRRMC owned only one chainsaw. (Walter I. Balane/MindaNews)