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Philippines: Landslide and rescue efforts

The IFRC (International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies) confirmed last Friday afternoon, that an entire village had been buried by a major landslide in the central Philippines following heavy rains. The landslide hit Guinsaugon village in the town of St Bernard on the southern part of the island of Leyte. The Philippine Red Cross responded by flying in a C-130 with response teams, body bags, trauma kits, emergency kits, communication equipment and food. International support is been mobilized as assessment is coming from the field.

Lanslide in Eastern Visayas

The first situation map of the area affected was produced by the OCHA Regional office at Bangkok in Thailand. UNOSAT then requested the International Charter on Space and Major Disasters to be triggered. A few hours later, their request was accepted by the Charter and UNOSAT began to supply satellite imagery derived maps of the situtation starting with a pre-disaster overview zoom of the potentialy affected area in Saint Bernard and more have been made available over the past few days with others in the making. Please go here for further updates on relief mapping efforts.

Philippines Lanslide Feb 2006

In terms of rescue efforts, a 24/7 operations centre is supporting the coordination efforts at capital level while the President of the Philippines has been calling for Emergency Meetings occasionally. On the ground, two Battalion Commanders led the relief effort at the mudslide area. At the time there were a total of approximately 250 soldiers on the ground, with 11 officers in leading positions while one battalion commanding officer focuses on retrieval, the second one on the relief operation, with a focus on survivors and established evacuation centres.

Military Search And Rescue Team

On the communications and connectivity front, TSF (Télécoms Sans Frontières) began preparations to send in a crew of logisticians specialized in emergency communications from its Asian Base at Bangkok in Thailand to restore the telecom network that had been affected as well as to strengthen local and international disaster response in St Bernard, Leyte. The crew who where carrying satellite communication facilities such as BGan and RBGan data transmitters, satellite phones and fax equipment departed Bangkok on Saturday morning in order to reach Manilla to liase with the National Disaster Coordinating Council and UN crews.

TSF crew at St. Bernard, Leyte

A reliable source embedded with a UN-OCHA unit indicates that the national disaster relief response is excellent: “Generally, I feel that the national response is professional, organized and focusing on saving as many lives as possible at this stage.” A volunteer with the IFRC mentions that since the media is streaming hints from rescuers on the ground that hope to find survivors alive is fading, other disaster rescue teams have been alerted to consider holding back with sending assets to the site until there is clearer indication regarding the direction of the relief operation.

Search and Resuce team with sniffer dogs

This week, on Monday, at 5pm (local time) a spokesperson from UNDAC informs other teams, that local coordination of rescuers is going quite well and that there are regular coordination, geographic division of work and adequate communication among teams. In Saint Bernard, TSF has achieved complete Internet connectivity and net facilities are available for active aid agencies and other NGOs responding to the disaster. Meanwhile, the Australian Government, through AUSAID, is said to be fielding an Engineering Advisory Mission, the team consisting of engineers with expertise in geotechnical and structural engineering and water and sanitation, to help the Philippine Government assess the impact of the landslide and the risk of further slides while also helping the survivors.

Victim Identification proces

Officials of Dept. of Health, Dept. of Social Welfare, and Office of Civil Defense in the Philippines have been advised to utilise TSF services to transmit data to Manila while the operation center in Manila have been requested to receive/relay the transmission. Other NGOs/SAR teams are also requested to make use of TSF facilities since road transportation between Manila and the disaster site takes a long time and choppers are focused on rescue. To date, there have been
limited requests from the humanitarian community for US/AFP military assistance other than transport, though as requirements are developing, crews are preparing to handle any requests for provision of water and sanitation at several of the Evacuation Centers.

Makeshift hospital at a high school

Four days after the landslide, the discussions with various actors in Tacloban (Philippines Army, US Air Force, Presidential Assistant to Eastern Visayas and the Secretary of Department of Social Welfare & Development who is responsible for evacuation, post-disaster recovery) confirm that supply of relief items including food, water and medicine needs to stop immediately as all these are in abundance. Recovery and rehabilitation therefore need to be focused upon.

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