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Philippines: Life in evacuation centers

Mayon Volcano. From the Flickr page of Natz Tolentino Llaguno

Mayon Volcano. From the Flickr page of Natz Tolentino Llaguno

For more than two weeks, 10,000 families were housed in temporary shelters after Alert Level 4 was raised around Mayon Volcano in the Philippines. These families spent the Christmas and New Year in evacuation centers. Mayon is the most active volcano in the Philippines, having erupted 50 times in the past 400 years. It is located in Albay province, southeast of Luzon Island.

The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology released a status report on Mayon’s volcanic activity:

Alert Level 3 is in effect over Mayon, which means that the 6-km radius Permanent Danger Zone around the volcano and the 7-km Extended Danger Zone on the southeast flank of the volcano should be free from human activity because of sudden explosions that may generate hazardous volcanic flows

A short video clip showing lava flows from Mayon:

The National Disaster Coordinating Council released this update on the situation of the residents in evacuation centers:

The DSWD reported that a total of 10,080 families / 47,766 persons coming from 32 barangays in five (5) municipalities and three (3) cities in Albay were affected

As of January 02, 2009, twenty eight (28) evacuation centers are still open providing temporary shelter to the 9,470 families / 44,938 persons

UPDATE: 96 percent of evacuees have returned home already.

The situation in some shelters needs improvement:

Toilets are inadequate in evacuation camps with a present ratio of 1:45 to 1:28 per latrine (WHO standard is 20/ latrine).

Public school facilities were used as evacuation centers:

Forty five (45) schools have been designated as evacuation centers: 21 in Albay, 11 in Legazpi City, 6 in Ligao City and 7 in Tabaco City

Classes in all schools within the 8 km radius of Mayon were suspended and school authorities were advised to devise scheduling and shifting strategies that would enable pupils using these evacuation classrooms to revert to regular classes as soon as possible and for the evacuee pupils to hold classes within the premises of the evacuation school.

Bagumbayan Elementary School temporary shelter

Bagumbayan Elementary School temporary shelter

The Citizens’ Disaster Response Center went to temporary shelters which have not been visited by the media. Here is what the team observed:

…the displaced families are beginning to feel the burdens of a life in transit. Overcrowding and strains to privacy, health and sanitation problems, lack of food, and missed income opportunities are just a few of the evacuees’ concerns.

Typically, 12 families or about 55 persons crowd in a schoolroom. There is barely enough living space in this 7 x 7-meter room. Evacuees are cramped at a density of one person in less than one square meter of space, way below the recommended 3.5 square meters of space per individual.

Evacuees generally sleep on plastic mats over concrete flooring. This makes these coldest days of the year much less bearable than normal, the evacuees said.

At the centers, families usually share a meal of rice, noodles, and canned goods provided by aid agencies. This monotonous diet was only once punctuated by a ration of fruits and other stuff on Christmas Day.

Typically, there are one or two bathing facilities in a camp. Some evacuees have to wait in line as early as 1:00 am if they want a quick shower.

Health problems now begin to surface in the evacuation camps. Colds and respiratory illnesses are common, aggravated by the cold weather. Incidents of conjunctivitis (sore eyes), which is a highly contagious infection, have been reported in at least one evacuation center.

Since many residents who need to be evacuated are farmers, the government has also ordered the evacuation of livestock animals so that the people will not return in the danger areas.

Because of the poor conditions in many evacuation centers, many residents were forced to go back to their homes to get much needed supplies

Before the 24-hour curfew was imposed, some residents, mostly male, braved entering the danger zones to collect supplies lacking in evacuation centers such as firewood, rootcrops, and vegetables. Due to inadequate water supply and toilets, the women also tried going back to their homes during the day for laundry and personal hygiene.

Travesia Elementary School Evacuation Center

Travesia Elementary School Evacuation Center

cbanga360 also reported about the suffering of children in many evacuation centers:

The “former” residents who called their home the slopes of restive, almost perfect-coned Mayon volcano, spent their first Christmas and New Year, in cramped and crowded surroundings.

In all other centers, there are many children of varying age who suffer in silence and discomfort, albeit with constant fear and uncertainty about their present predicament.

Tonyo Cruz identifies drop-off centers and bank account details for donations through the Bicol Movement for Disaster Response.

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