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Tuesday, October 6, 2009

News: Thousands still displaced by floods in Zambales

Thousands still displaced by floods in Zambales
By Robert Gonzaga

OLONGAPO CITY, Philippines — As more than 3,000 evacuees in Zambales started returning home on Monday after typhoon “Pepeng” crossed northern Luzon, thousands more in Botolan town remained in evacuation centers due to severe flooding there since August, local officials said.

Graciela Macabare, provincial disaster coordinating council chief in Zambales, said the 3,403 residents of Sta. Cruz town, who were asked to leave their houses on Friday to avoid the floods that would be generated by Pepeng, had gone back home.

She said the preemptive evacuation was ordered by Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro Jr. before Pepeng reached Sta. Cruz, the northernmost town of Zambales, because most residents there were living near the coastline.

“They are the ones usually hit when typhoons hit Northern Luzon,” Macabare said.

But in Botolan, which has been experiencing floods since a major dike was damaged by typhoon “Kiko” in August, floodwaters reached up to five feet on Saturday night when Pepeng dumped heavy rains in the area.

At least 2,120 families or 7,393 people have been staying in evacuation centers in the town since August.

Macabare said knee-deep water swamped the villages of Tampo, San Miguel, Batonlapoc and Paudpod on Saturday. In the villages of Paco and Carael, floodwater was neck-deep.

“We’re not sure when the supply for the [Botolan] evacuees will last. We still have some stocks. They will last for awhile, but if the rains continue and the number of evacuees rises, then we won’t have enough,” said Mayor Rogelio Yap.

Lorenzo Cailing Jr., 43, president of an organization of evacuees in one of the largest evacuation centers in Botolan, said they had started receiving a regular supply of relief goods from the town’s social welfare office.

Earlier, a group of evacuees complained that they had not been getting food and supplies for several days.

Yap said shortages would be inevitable.

“Our resources in terms of staffing and supplies are sometimes not enough to service all of them at once. But we are working hard to provide for all of their needs,” he said.

To ensure order in providing assistance and relief to evacuees, Yap asked donors to coordinate with the town’s social welfare office.

“What happens sometimes is that some evacuation centers are visited more than others by donors. Without coordination with us, then we cannot be sure that relief goods are going to those most in need of them. We ask the private sector to please help us and coordinate their relief missions with us,” he said.

Gov. Amor Deloso said the Olongapo-Bugallon Road remained impassable to all types of vehicles, cutting off access to northern Zambales.

He said the national road passing through Botolan was muddy and some sections were flooded.

“It’s hard right now to get around there. It is impossible to get from both ends of the province … You’d have to wait a few days at least before you can do that again,” he said.

He said no typhoon-related casualty was reported in the province but many houses and roads were damaged by floodwater and strong current.

Senior Supt. Rolando Felix, Zambales police director, said the five fishermen from Sta. Cruz, who were reported missing on Sept. 23, had been found.