MORE search, rescue, and retrieval (SRR) teams have been sent to Cagayan and Isabela provinces in response to calls for assistance from thousands of residents who remain trapped in their houses due to massive floods brought about by typhoon “Ulysses” last week, Armed Forces spokesman Maj. Gen. Edgard Arevalo said yesterday.
According to Cagayan Gov. Manuel Mamba, 216 barangays in 24 of the 28 towns and one city the province continue to be under floodwaters that have also displaced some 294,000 individuals as of yesterday.
“This is the worst flooding that we had in the last 45 years,” he said during a briefing with President Duterte. “We see that it is worsening every year.”
The death toll from Ulysses, which hit the country on Wednesday last week, rose yesterday to 69, according to the National Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC).
Arevalo said the military continues to beef up its resources in the two provinces. He said 10 SRR teams arrived these areas on Saturday and five more yesterday.
“At present, we now have 36 SRR teams, serving and helping our people in these areas,” he .
Arevalo said the additional SRR teams cam mostly from the Metro Manila and Calabarzon regions, and were fresh from similar missions in Marikina City and nearby areas which were also sent under water by Ulysses.
Rescue teams from Marikina and other areas from national government agencies have been “demobilized” because the situation is now under the control of local government units, using their own manpower complement.
Arevalo said many residents still have to be rescued but could not immediately give figures.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the operations are being supervised by Maj. Gen. Arnulfo Marcelo Burgos, chief of the AFP Northern Luzon Command (Nolcom), and Maj. Gen. Laurence Mina, commander of the 5th Infantry Division.
Nolcom spokesman Maj. Marco Antonio Magisa said more SRR teams are on standby, ready to be deployed to Cagayan and Isabela. He said many areas are still submerged even while floodwaters are slowly receding.
Magisa could not also give figures as to how many residents in these areas need to be rescued but said SRR teams have rescued many from rooftops as of Saturday.
Lorenzana said Army, Navy and Air Force units are helping in the search, rescue and retrieval operations.
“We’ve deployed additional disaster response teams (DRTs)… Five more are coming and we have four reserved DRTs from the Army and Navy which can be transported here if they are still needed,” he said.
The Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) said it has sent 30 personnel together with rescue boats and trucks to help in rescue operations.
Mike Salalima, head of the MMDA’s Public Safety Office and Disaster Risk Reduction and Management, said streets in Cagayan are still not passable because of debris like fallen trees, and landslides.
“From our rescue center in MMDA, we are having also difficulty in communicating with them because of the weak signal, and most of the time, no signal at all, What we are using is radio communication,” he added.
The Department of Health has sent some P1.6 million worth of additional medicines, medical supplies, and personal protective equipment to communities in Cagayan.
The MMDA also deployed personnel to Marikina City for rescue and road clearing operations.
The city was placed under a state of calamity last Friday.
Marikina Mayor Marcelino Teodoro said focus of the clearing operations is the removal of thick mud left by the floods.
Ulysses left five dead in the city, all victims of drowning.
Mamba attributed the flooding not only to Ulysses but also to the silted Cagayan River, denudation of the forest, and release of water from Magat Dam, causing the river to overflow.
He said he is thinking of filing charges against dam officials for the abrupt opening of the gates of the dam. “We are also also reminding them to take care, to manage their watershed,” he said.
Mamba said the river’s water level reached a peak of 13.1 meters and was at 12.2 meters yesterday.
“Up to now, on the fourth day, we continue to conduct rescue and relief operations and we need air (and water) assets because our highways are under water because as you all know, the highway of Cagayan is parallel to Cagayan river, from Tuguegarao to Aparri,” said Mamba.
Briefing President Duterte who visited Cagayan yesterday, Mamba said they have difficulty reaching some areas due to the flooding. “This is the worst flooding that we had for the last 45 years,” he said.
Isabela Gov. Rodolfo Albano said he is not blaming authorities for deciding to release water from Magat Dam. He said the released water merely contributed to the flooding they suffered.
“If that collapses, millions of people will die in the province of Isabela and in Cagayan. That (decision to release water) is the discretion of the dam (officials),” Albano said.
He also said many of his constituents remain at rooftops, waiting to be rescued.
“They are still on the roofs, the floodwaters have yet to recede,” said Albano, adding the people of Isabela were overwhelmed by the flooding.
Harold Cabreros, director of the Office of Civil Defense in the Cagayan Valley region, said 24 died, most due to landslides, and 100,000 families or 343,000 persons have been affected by Ulysses in the region.
“At this point in time, we continue to conduct disaster response operations,” said Cabreros, adding that some 4,800 personnel from various agencies are involved in the search, rescue and retrieval operations.
“I want to emphasize here that the LGUs have their own search and rescue teams that conducted forced evacuation and rescue operations,” said Cabreros.
“We have conducted aerial reconnaissance. There are communities that were isolated and cannot be reached by land so we will be conducting (aerial) resupply or relief operations to these communities,” said Cabreros.
He said the Department of Health has been distributing hygiene kits and medicines to the affected population while the Department of Public Works and Highways is conducting road clearing operations in areas that are no longer flooded.
NDRRMC executive director Ricardo Jalad told President Duterte that Ulysses led to the death of 69 persons in six regions — Cagayan Valley, Cordillera Administrative Region, Metro Manila, Bicol, Calabarzon, and Mimaropa.
Jalad, who is also the OCD administrator, said the number of affected population, overall, was pegged at almost 286,000 families or 1.1 million individuals.
NDRRMC spokesman Mark Timbal later qualified the official death toll was still at 67, and the two additional fatalities earlier mentioned by the NDRRMC was still subject to verification.
Timbal said 22 of the fatalities are from Cagayan Valley (two lower than what Cabreros reported), 17 are from Calabarzon, 10 from CAR, eight each from Bicol and Metro Manila, and two from Central Luzon.
Timbal said the number of damaged houses was placed at 25,852.
The cost of damage to agriculture and infrastructure as well as the damaged houses are expected to rise in the coming days. “The other affected regional DRRMCs (disaster risk reduction and management councils) are still to submit their respective damage assessments,” he said.
Agriculture Secretary William Dar said damage to the agriculture sector due to Ulysses has reached P2 billion.
Despite the damage, only up to six days supply of rice had been affected and the buffer stock of rice remains at 92 days or over three months. He said the public should not expect any price hike in agricultural products.
Trade undersecretary Ruth Castelo reminded businesses there is a price freeze on all basic products.
Lorenzana and Jalad said government has issued ample flood and typhoon warnings, including dam advisories, about the release of waters due to the heavy downpour and spilling of the dams.
Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said the government is considering coming up with a protocol for the discharge of water from the dams during calamities.
President Duterte, in an ambush interview in Camarines Sur, said it was expected that the dams would be opened to avoid an even bigger catastrophe during the typhoon.
Duterte conducted an aerial inspection of Cagayan and nearby areas before he led the distribution of family food packs and relief packs in Solona town.
He attended the briefing after the relief pack distribution.
He later flew to Camarines Sur to assess the damage brought about by Ulysses and typhoon “Rolly.” He also received a briefing in Camarines Sur about the damage in the Bicol region.
The National Electrification Administration said that as of 3 p.m. on Saturday, electricity has been fully restored to 168 of 427 cities and municipalities under 40 electric cooperatives in 24 provinces in the regions of Ilocos, Cagayan Valley, Central Luzon, Calabarzon, Mimaropa and Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR).
The Manila Electric Co. said that as of 5 a.m. yesterday, only 170,303 customers are still without power service, from a high of 3.8 million customers.
The Department of Energy said price freeze for household liquefied petroleum gas and kerosene products are effective in Marikina City as well as the provinces of Isabela, Cagayan and Aurora. – With Jocelyn Montemayor, Noel Talacay and Gerard Naval