By Mary Joy Evalarosa
If there’s anything good about a typhoon, it’s that people have time to prepare and responders are primed to act. In the days and hours before Typhoon Mangkhut swirled its deadly path towards Luzon – home to nearly 50 million people – the Philippine Red Cross joined a massive effort led by the government to get people ready for the storm, known locally as Ompong.
Manual Tagacay, the town captain of Carig Norte in Tuguegarao, said, “As soon as we heard Ompong was to hit the Philippines and that we were in the direct path of it, we prepared and secured our homes. We were better prepared than before Super Typhoon Haima in 2016.”
Warnings were issued to millions of people at risk. They stocked up on food, water, flashlights, first aid kits and emergency supplies, tied down roofs and boarded up windows. About 350,000 people moved to evacuation centres.
Meanwhile, the Red Cross spread safety messages and urged people to heed messages to evacuate. Trained Red Cross teams were placed in the path of Mangkhut, covering Cagayan, Isabela, Apayao and Ilocos Norte. The teams were followed by a caravan with four 10-wheeler trucks, a six-wheeler truck, an earth mover, four generators, a van for cooking hot meals, a Humvee, a steel boat with trailer and much more. Water and sanitation equipment included a 10,000-litre water tanker, water treatment unit and four water bladders with tap stands.
This early action guaranteed a quick response. After a night of watching and waiting, Philippine Red Cross staff and volunteers got to work at first light. They assessed the damage and people’s needs, supported people in evacuation centres with blankets and other essential aid, and helped relief teams to get through, for example using chainsaws to clear fallen trees.
Manual Tagacay said the solidarity meant a lot to people who had survived a hellish night. “We’re thankful for the help of the Red Cross teams in clearing the debris,” he said.
“We were overwhelmed when we saw the aftermath, but when we saw that the Red Cross had deployed staff that came all the way from Manila with all these assets, we were relieved that we didn’t have to do this alone. We are very grateful for the support.”
Further south, in Baguio city, teacher Rebecca Clave, 45, who is a Red Cross youth advisor, used social media to kickstart help when she heard of terrible landslides near Itogon and Ucab, two gold mining towns.
“I sent out a call for help on Facebook, and we got donations from teachers and friends of blankets, bottled water, canned goods and jackets,” she said. “I then called the Red Cross chapter to coordinate our distribution and quickly arranged for a van to take us from Baguio to Itogon, roughly a 30-minute drive but it took longer due to the blockages along the way.
“Since classes have been suspended for the week, I took my seven-year-old daughter Accey to help with the distribution. My husband is a rescuer based in Manila and Accey grew up with us being away for work. So I am happy she was just inducted as a Red Cross Youth member in her school, and I want her to be aware of what’s happening so that in the future, she can play a more active role in Red Cross and influence her classmates to do the same.”
The mother and daughter met mostly women and children at the evacuation centre. The men were helping dig survivors out of the landslides – miners who many of them knew personally. The number of dead is still being tallied, but up to 100 people are feared to have been killed.
In the aftermath of the disaster and throughout the recovery period, people can count on the Philippine Red Cross and its international partners. This week, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) launched an emergency appeal seeking 2.7 million Swiss francs (152 million Philippines pesos) to support Philippines Red Cross to assist 100,000 people for 12 months.
Philippine Red Cross Chairman Richard Gordon said that the Red Cross is committed to standing with people, adding: “Philippine Red Cross has been in action before and during Typhoon Ompong. Right now, we are committed to working hand in hand to help people recover as fast as possible.”