NOT SAFE YET
Residents cooped up inside evacuation centers in Naga City have been getting restless and have started asking officials when they could return to the homes they had abandoned.
The residents were not affected by the landslide but were forced to vacate their houses as they live within the one-kilometer radius from ground zero, or the area in Sitio Sindulan, Barangay Tinaan, where over 50 houses had been buried in mud and debris.
As of yesterday, 72 individuals have been confirmed to have died in the landslide, with 11 persons still missing.
City officials led by Mayor Kristine Vanessa Chiong, however, asked the residents to be patient, stressing it’s not safe yet for them to return home, as experts have still to determine if it would already be all right for them to go back to their residences.
Rosita Pañares, 56, has been staying inside the Enan Chiong Activity Center in Barangay East Poblacion for a week since the Naga City government and the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office (PDRRMO) conducted a forced evacuation of residents living in five barangays — Tinaan, Naalad, Mainit, Pangdan and Inoburan.
These barangays belonged to the one-kilometer radius of ground zero where imminent danger is present.
Pañares and her daughter reside in Sitio Sindulan but their house was spared from the landslide.
She said she hoped the local government and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) would release the official results of the hazard delineation map in their area soon.
“I really hope we can go back living in our house but we were told by the mayor that we will have to wait for DENR’s clearance before we can return to our houses,” said Pañares.
“It has been stressful here because we cannot sleep properly, and finding another place to live immediately can be really expensive,” she added.
Chiong, for her part, appealed to the evacuees to be more patient since the DENR has yet to finalize the findings and recommendations of their team that inspected the landslide site and areas surrounding ground zero.
Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu, while visiting Naga City on Sept. 21, has ordered a unit within DENR to conduct a thorough investigation into what caused the landslide and to recommend measures that could prevent such a catastrophe from happening again.
The results were supposed to have been released last Friday, Sept. 28.
“DENR told us that the formation of the delineation map is still ongoing…. but there’s no clearance yet for the evacuees to return to their houses,” Chiong explained in an interview yesterday.
The mayor also said that two proposed relocation sites, both located in Barangay Tinaan, are still pending for approval by DENR.
One is the Balili property and the other is the Gawad Kalinga Community Village along the Cebu South Road.
On the other hand, the number of evacuees housed in 11 evacuation centers in the city has decreased from 7,585 persons on Friday to 6,792 yesterday afternoon.
Graeme Ferdinand Armecin, chief for policy and plans division of the Department of Social Welfare and Development in Central Visayas (DSWD-7), said some of those who were forced to leave their houses have decided not to stay in evacuation centers.
“We called them stay-out evacuees. Because they’re technically evacuees, only that they decided not to stay inside evacuation centers. But we’re still monitoring on their whereabouts and status,” said Armecin.
Search and retrieval continues
Meanwhile, PDRRMO chief Baltazar Tribunalo Jr. said they will still continue with the search and retrieval operations in Barangay Tinaan for the remaining 11 missing persons.
As of yesterday, authorities have also retrieved 24 severed body parts and have identified five of them.
Tribunalo said they hoped that by October 4, which is a Thursday, or two weeks since the landslide happened, they can dig up all the 11 bodies they believed are still buried beneath the rubble.
“Two weeks is enough, if we’re going to conduct the search and retrieval operations 24/7.
There is no definite date when the operations will cease because we will have to depend with the incident commander,” said Tribunalo.
“But hopefully we can finish the search and retrieval before October 4 because of health and hazard reasons, especially to our rescuers doing the operations there,” he added.
Yesterday, a Mass was organized by the city government and the Incident Management Team (IMT) on ground zero to bless not only the responders but also the people who died there.
Val Chiong’s admission
Meanwhile, former Naga City Mayor Valdemar Chiong, the father of the incumbent mayor, admitted over a live interview with dySS yesterday that politics apparently led him to deny the request of Apo Land and Quarry Corp. (ALQC) to demolish the houses in Sitio Sindulan sometime in 2009.
“Pero ang nahitabo kay ako man gihangyo nga ayaw nalang. Mao to nga nibiya sila (ALQC) anang lugara kay sugdan naman sad nila og tree planting pud. Adto sila sa unahan gamay,” said Valdemar.
(But what happened is that I asked them not to. That’s why they gave in, and moved to another area since they already started the tree planting there.)
“Nihangyo ang mga tawo nga ‘mayor, unsay imong matabang namo’… namolitika naman gud ko atong higayona kay hapit na ang election mao nang ning-hangyo ko sa Apo,” he added.
(The people were asking ‘mayor, what can you do for us’… I was politicizing at that time because it’s nearing elections that’s why I made the request to Apo).
Valdemar assumed as mayor of Naga City in 2006 to replace his late brother and then mayor Ferdinand Chiong.
He was first elected mayor in 2007 and served as mayor for three consecutive terms, which ended in July 2016.
The older Chiong, in the same radio interview, also stressed that the Mines and Geosciences Bureau in Central Visayas (MGB-7) has never communicated to his daughter any document that would have warned her of threats posed by the cracks in the soil in Barangay Tinaan or of the possible erosion in landslide-prone areas before the incident happened.
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