‘Eastern Samar is gone’

Paolo Romero - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - Tacloban and other parts of Leyte were not the only places severely hit by Super Typhoon Yolanda.

“Eastern Samar is gone,” Rep. Ben Evardone of the province lamented yesterday as he sought emergency assistance for his home province.

Evardone made the assessment after he was able to visit even remote towns in Eastern Samar on Monday by hitching rides on helicopters and trucks.

He has helped marshal social workers, soldiers and volunteers to distribute aid to the victims, but sighs, “I really don’t know where to start. I cannot imagine the devastation that hit my province.”

As he saw the province from a helicopter, he told himself, “There is no more Eastern Samar province.”

“You cannot recognize it. The devastation was horrific,” he told reporters, his voice cracking.

He said he flew over the coastal municipalities that were swept away by a storm surge triggered by Yolanda, including the historic Balangiga and Homonhon towns up to Guiuan, where the monster howler first made landfall.

“Until now, I have goose bumps. When I saw one island barangay there called Victory, it’s really wiped out, you couldn’t see a thing,” he said.

Evardone, a former governor of the province, said President Aquino himself arranged for his transport loaded with relief goods so he would be able assist his constituents.

He said since the local government infrastructure had ceased to exist, policemen and soldiers had to be deployed to Guiuan because of reports of looting.

Compounding the situation, he said, is the escape of over 160 inmates from Guiuan.

He appealed to the international donor communities not to focus only on Tacloban City as Samar had also suffered heavily with 11 of its 23 municipalities the hardest hit by the killer typhoon.

“I don’t know how we will be able to rise because 80 percent of my constituents rely on coconut but now the coconut trees are either uprooted or toppled down, and it takes five to 10 years to replant,” he said. “If you use a new variety, we’d be lucky three to five years to harvest coconut and in the meantime – three to five years what will you do? With your children?” 

Lessons learned

At Malacañang, Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said the government should draw lessons from Yolanda to make it more effective in dealing with future calamities.

On hindsight, Coloma said they should have explained to local government officials that a storm surge could be mistaken for tsunami or tidal wave and could be as deadly or even more lethal.

The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology defines a tsunami as a series of sea waves commonly generated by underwater earthquakes, which could be as high as five meters. 

A storm surge is created when a powerful storm blows over a body of water, creating abnormally high waves that move toward the shoreline. The high waves can cause severe flooding in coastal areas.

But Coloma said the government did not lack in preparations and that some things were just beyond its control like when Typhoon Pablo unexpectedly hit Davao Oriental and Compostela Valley, which until then had not experienced storms in the last 100 years.

Aside from better information, Coloma said “black swans” or highly unusual events could lead government to enhance preparations for disaster. 

While the people of Leyte and Samar are used to typhoons, Coloma said they were not familiar with storm surges.

He said people were now realizing that a storm surge has a “tsunami-like effect.”

Coloma said the same thing happened when Typhoon Sendong hit Iligan and Cagayan de Oro cities in December 2011, washing down thousands of logs from the mountain to the surprise and horror of the people in the lowlands.

Coloma emphasized the government was prepared for the worst-case scenario and this was the reason why President Aquino warned of the big dangers posed by Yolanda. – Aurea Calica, Helen Flores


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