MINDANAO 2013: Mindanao finally learns its lesson; was “over-prepared” for Yolanda

ILIGAN CITY (MindaNews/ 05 January) — Mindanao may have been fortunate to be spared  Yolanda’s wrath, but it preoccupied Mindanawons nevertheless, after typhoon Sendong and super typhoon Pablo devastated many parts of the island two years in a row.

Having been caught offguard when Sendong and Pablo wrought havoc in 2011 and 2012, Mindanawonsa apparently have learned their lessons, time, even being over-prepared for super typhoon Yolanda on November 8.

While Yolanda’s strongest winds hit Samar and Leyte and neighboring areas in the Visayas, it was encouraging to hear reports trickling in from various areas in Mindanao that there was almost zero casualty, despite the damage to property, infrastructure and crops amounting to millions of pesos.

Mindanao’s northeastern tip – where Dinagat Island and the Surigao provinces are situated – was the most endangered as the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) could not discount the possibility that Yolanda may yet veer towards a more southerly path as super typhoon Pablo did on December 4, 2012.

Still, areas too far away took preemptive action just to be sure.

Super typhoon Pablo was expected to make landfall in Hinatuan, Surigao del Sur but it hit land in Baganga, Davao Oriental instead.

In preparation for Yolanda, touted to be stronger than super typhoon Pablo, officials in Bukidnon ordered suspension of classes, and work in some cases, even if the province was not placed under any public storm warning signal.

Residents in vulnerable areas were ordered to evacuate to higher ground. A total of 378 families in flood-prone areas – like Malitbog which was affected by Typhoon Pablo, Impasug-ong and Valencia City – left their homes.

Iligan City, also not placed under any public storm warning signal, made a similar move as Mayor Celso Regencia ordered the suspension of classes in all levels. Iligan, after all, sustained heavy damage and hundreds of casualties during Typhoon Sendong in December 2011.

The suspension of classes was ordered  despite the rule on automatic suspension of classes that for areas under  Signal No. 1, only kindergarten pupils are not required to report to school. Classes are to be suspended in elementary and high school only when the storm warning goes up to Signal No. 2, and in colleges and graduate schools when it further goes higher to Signal No. 3.

“We’re not taking any chances with this projected super typhoon so we will be drawing some measures to preempt its possible impact in our area,” said General Santos Mayor Ronnel Rivera, even if his city is so far down south.

Cagayan de Oro City, which was under Signal No. 1 along with Misamis Oriental, likewise forced residents in vulnerable areas to evacuate. Most of the 1,538 families who sought shelter in evacuation centers were from barangays Macasandig and Balulang, which were most devasted by Typhoon Sendong as the Cagayan de Oro River overflowed on Decembr 16, 2011.

In Misamis Oriental, 772 families from the towns of Medina, Libertad, Opol, Alubjid, Claveria, Jasaan, Villanueva, Tagoloan, Lagonglong and Binuangan were moved to safer grounds two days before Yolanda’s landfall as officials implemented a preemptive evacuation in flood-prone and landslide-prone areas.

Preparations were even more intense in the Caraga Region, which was closest to Yolanda’s path, and in parts of the Davao Region severely hit by Typhoon Pablo.

For Dinagat Province, which was placed under Signal No. 4, the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) reported preparing 2,000 food packs, as well as blankets, mosquito nets, kitchen kits and other basic necessities.

In Surigao City, travel by sea was prohibited starting two days before landfall and the bancas docked along the boulevard were moved to a safer place.

In Butuan, city and provincial officials prepared for the worst as PAGASA and the Office of Civil Defense (OCD) said there was a possibility that Yolanda may make landfall in the Caraga Region, considering that the same case happened during Typhoon Pablo.

In Compostela Valley, one of the worst hit provinces during Typhoon Pablo, the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (PDRRMC) and the Municipal Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Councils (MDRRMCs) were activated, rescuers as well as heavy equipment and dump trucks put on standby, and a stockpile of food prepared, according to Gov. Arturo Uy. He said small-scale mining operations were suspended, too.

Davao Oriental, where Typhoon Pablo first made landfall, made similar moves.

When the storm cleared, reports started coming in of the thousands of people displaced, millions of pesos worth of damage in infrastructure, schools, houses, agriculture and many more. Dinagat, being so close to Leyte, apparently suffered the most, with around P202 million in damage.

But there was also one common report from the various areas – zero casualty, except for the three fishermen from Socorro in Surigao del Norte.

Maybe Mindanao was lucky to have been spared Yolanda’s wrath, which was one of the strongest the world has ever seen. But it can also be told that Mindanwons, at last, after having been knocked down twice, have finally begun to acknowledge the fact that they are now vulnerable to weather disturbances, and started to do something about it, unlike in past decades when typhoons were hitting only the northeastern part of Mindanao.

As soon as Yolanda left the country, Mindanawons were quick to extend a helping hand.

In Cagayan de Oro City, survivors of Typhoon Sendong flocked to the DSWD office to help pack relief goods for Yolanda-devastated areas.

Among them was Lilian Balistoy, who lost two of her five children as floodwaters swept her home in Cala-cala, Barangay Macasandig. “When I … watched the news, I wept. I remembered how my children were swept away by the floodwaters of Typhoon Sendong,” she said.

“It is through this way that I can repay for all the kindness and the help we got from people who  gave when we were victims of Sendong. I do not have much money and this is the only way I can repay their kindness,” seconded Vicky Valde, another Sendong survivor who lost a husband in the flood.

Students soon joined many others in doing their little share to help typhoon victims. “I cannot close my eyes and pretend that it did not happen. I have to help,” said Abigail Roque, a high school student of Liceo de Cagayan University who responded to the DSWD’s call for volunteers to help repack rice, noodles, sardines, cofee and other relief goods.

Survivors of super typhoon Pablo in New Bataan, Compostela Valley – among those worse hit by Typhoon Pablo – brought goods and clothing to the local parish for donation to Yolanda survivors. “Gusto rin nilang makatulong” (They also want to help), said Fr. Edgar Tuling, the parish priest.

Various local government units donated millions of pesos in cash and relief goods to Tacloban City and other areas devastated by the typhoon. These include P8 million from Davao City and P10 million from General Santos City. Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte himself went to Leyte, land of his birth, to lead a contingent from his city and told armed escorts to shoot the foot those who would attempt to rob relief goods being transported.

Even boxing legend Manny Pacquiao, fresh from winning a fight against Brandon Rios and in the middle of his fight with the Bureau of Internal Revenue over alleged unpaid taxes amounting to billions of pesos, went to Leyte to distribute relief goods he bought using borrowed money. The Sarangani congressman’s mere presence brought joy to Tacloban residents.

Two Army task groups composed of soldiers who were in the frontlines doing disaster relief and rehabilitation work during Sendong and Pablo also went to Leyte to help out.

“Our families know where we are going and they understand that we are needed in Leyte. Many of the wives of the soldiers are even urging their husbands to do their best to help the typhoon victims,” said 1Lt. Mayer Camaganalan, of the 4th Infantry Division’s Post Engineer Department.

While many government doctors, nurses and other health professionals under the Department of Health fanned out in many areas in Samar, Leyte and other devastated areas, private medical practitioners from Northern Mindanao took time out from work and took turns in volunteering to man a hospital in Palompon, Leyte.

Non-government organizations across Mindanao likewise brought relief goods and services to typhoon-battered areas.

Mindanawons who could not be at Ground Zero, they joined fund-raising activites like concerts, fun runs and bike races.

Concerts were held in the cities of Davao and Cagayan de Oro. Running enthusiasts joined fun runs in Iligan and Surigao citiesm, while bikers attended a fund-raising event in Davao.  (Bobby Timonera with reports from Froilan Gallardo, Erwin Mascarinas, Walter Balane, Carolyn O. Arguillas, Roel Catoto/ MindaNews)