Landslides, floods kill 22 in Zambales

Bebot Sison Jr. (The Philippine Star) - September 24, 2013 - 12:00am

SUBIC, Philippines – For two days, the monsoon rains poured incessantly, swelling rivers and causing flooding up to two meters deep. On the third day yesterday, soil loosened by the rains came crashing down on communities in Zambales, burying scores of residents.

As of last night, 22 bodies had been found in the landslide areas, with the town of Subic the worst hit.

The monsoons, enhanced by Super Typhoon Odette (international name Usagi), stranded hundreds of residents on rooftops in Subic and cut off the municipality from the rest of the province, officials said.

Subic Mayor Jefferson Khonghun said heavy rains caused rain-soaked soil to cascade down.

“We’ve been experiencing very heavy rain. We are now isolated. I can confirm there are two landslide incidents here – in Barangays Wawandue and San Isidro,” Khonghun said.

He said it was the worst flooding they have seen so far.

“The floodwater is about two meters in many areas, and the rain is pounding and the water keeps on rising,” he said.

Khonghun said four rivers that pass through Subic were heavily silted and overflowed, causing the floods.

Ten of the fatalities were recovered in Barangay Cawag and six in Barangay San Isidro.

1Lt. Yvonne Ricaforte, civil- military operations officer of the Army’s 24th Battalion, said four bodies had also been found in barangay Agdlao in San Marcelino town.

Another body was retrieved in Barangay Balaybay in Castillejos town, the Army added.

In nearby Olongapo City, a 67-year-old woman drowned.

Local officials tied ropes across flooded streets so people could hold on to them to keep from being swept away by strong currents, eyewitnesses said.

People there carried their shivering children as they waded through the floodwaters amid submerged cars, an AFP reporter at the scene said.

Affected were barangays Sta. Rita, Mabayuan, West Bajac Bajac, East Tapinac, Banicain and other areas near the river channel.

Ten persons remained missing as of yesterday afternoon, according to data from the Office of Civil Defense Central Luzon and the Army. Six of them were from Subic while four were from Castillejos.

Officials cry for help

Khonghun called on the national government to come to the town’s aid.

“We are appealing for rescuers, equipment, diggers. We need relief goods. We need help from the national government, please send in inflatable boats,” he said.

Local authorities sent rubber boats and fire trucks to pick up residents but there were not enough to cope, Khonghun added.

Government employee Cristina Humbert, 35, said the ground floor of her two-storey home was flooded but she managed to evacuate her 63-year-old mother to higher ground.

“Many are on the rooftops, waiting for help. They are marooned, and are getting hungry and cold. We have no power, no electricity,” she told AFP.

Classes in all levels and work in government offices were suspended due to the flooding.

Odette passed through Northern Luzon over the weekend and has moved away from the country but it continued to exacerbate monsoon rains.

Rescue teams sent

The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) yesterday deployed two rubber boats to heavily flooded parts of Zambales to assist in search and rescue operations.

The Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) and Philippine Red Cross also deployed two search and rescue teams each to Zambales.

MMDA Chairman Francis Tolentino said the same rescuers were deployed to Negros Oriental last year when an earthquake hit the province.

Former senator and Red Cross chairman Richard Gordon said they are encouraging everyone in affected areas to evacuate as soon as they can, and for those who cannot relocate, to display a white flag outside their houses to notify rescuers.

Olongapo City Mayor Rolen Paulino also said they sought the assistance of US Ambassador Harry Thomas Jr. to deploy personnel from US Navy ships docked in Subic Bay to assist with rescue efforts.

Palace to probe flooding

Meanwhile, Malacañang vowed yesterday to look into the cause of flooding in Zambales.

Local authorities were reportedly citing the lack of dredging and flood-control programs in the area as cause of flooding problems.

Some residents managed to post messages and photos on social networking sites to seek help.

Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said disaster officials had been alerted about the situation and they would ask the Department of Public Works and Highways to respond to the statements of Khonghun that dredging operations in rivers in his area were stopped.

“We will confirm with DPWH Secretary (Rogelio) Singson if there was such a thing and if that is really the reason why the floodwaters rose in Subic,” Lacierda said.

Lacierda also said that if US Navy ships would help in the search and rescue in Zambales, they would have to coordinate with the Department of National Defense and the Armed Forces.

“We are just making sure that the proper coordination is done so everyone is on board and the assistance for the local governments will be coordinated,” Lacierda said. – With Alexis Romero, Ric Sapnu, Ding Cervantes, Mayen Jaymalin, Cecille Suerte Felipe, Evelyn Macairan, Mike Frialde, Aurea Calica

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