Aquino Declares State Of National Calamity

President Benigno S. Aquino III has signed Proclamation No. 522 declaring a State of National Calamity following the devastation brought about by typhoon "Pablo" in the Visayas and Mindanao.

A few hours after President Aquino proclaimed a State of National Calamity, hungry and homeless typhoon survivors appealed for help as the ravaged areas mourned its more than 500 dead and desperate people in one hard-hit town looted shops in search of food.

Four days after "Pablo" struck the major island of Mindanao, officials struggled to bring in food and relief convoys through roads that had been blocked or swept away by floods and avalanches of rock, logs, and mud.

The President signed the proclamation Friday night following his visit to Compostela Valley and Davao Oriental - the areas hardest hit by "Pablo," which has now changed its course anew and is now threatening to make another landfall over Ilocos Norte today.

"The declaration of a State of National Calamity will hasten the rescue, relief, and rehabilitation efforts of the government and the private sector, including any international humanitarian assistance, and will effectively control the prices of basic goods and commodities for the affected areas," the Proclamation read.

Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said that under a state of national calamity, a price freeze for basic necessities will be in effect for 60 days in areas identified to be severely affected by the typhoon unless lifted.

These basic necessities include rice, corn, bread, fresh, dried and canned fish and other marine products; fresh pork, beef and poultry; fresh eggs, fresh and processed milk; fresh vegetables, root crops, coffee, sugar, cooking oil, salt, laundry soap, detergent, firewood, charcoal, candles and drugs classified as essential by the Department of Health (DOH).

Government financing and lending institutions shall also grant no interest loans to the most affected sections of the population.

Among the areas severely affected by the typhoon include the provinces of Compostela Valley, Davao Oriental and Davao del Norte in Region XI; Surigao del Sur in Caraga Region; Lanao del Norte, Misamis Oriental and Cagayan de Oro City in Region X; Siquijor in Region VII; and, Palawan in Region IV-B.

About 4,000 residents in the destroyed farming village of Maparat in Compostela Valley had eaten the enclave's surviving chickens and were left with scavenging fallen coconut fruits, said nursing mother Virginia Dodres, 38.

"I tried to breast-feed Mica, but they're dry from lack of food. So I gave her coconut water, and now she's down with colic," mother-of-four Dodres told AFP as she comforted her crying one-year-old daughter.

All the houses had been carried off by floods and survivors were sleeping 80 to a room on the bare concrete floor of the local elementary school.

They share the toilet's two stalls and are doing their washing and bathing at a nearby spring, which is also their only source of water.

Dodres said church workers with two big pots of porridge arrived Saturday bearing the first relief aid to Maparat, located a few kilometers from the devastated town of New Bataan also in Compostela Valley. The food was gobbled up within minutes.

The village of flattened coconut and banana plants is linked by a muddy footpath to the main highway, where residents hung a hand-painted arrow with a crude sign on canvas that read: "Evacuation Area. Please Help Victims."

Rescue officials said Mindanao's east coast accounted for all but 40 of the 546 known deaths from the strongest typhoon to hit the country this year.

More than 500 other people are missing.

However, the official count of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) is 459 deaths, 445 injured, and 532 missing.

At least 211,000 people are taking refuge at crowded government-run shelters, according to the NDRRMC.

Military trucks brought scores of coffins into Maparat early Saturday, as unidentified corpses retrieved from under rubble piled up at a government yard.

Cedric Daep, a public safety specialist, said desperate survivors looted shops and warehouses in Cateel, a hard-hit town in Davao Oriental, in the early aftermath of "Pablo's" landfall there.

Buildings Ransacked For Food

"The food aid took so long to arrive that the locals broke into whatever building (was) left standing in search of something to eat," said Daep, who was sent to the south to help organize the disaster response.

Daep said the region suffered its last strong typhoon in 1922, and had little expertise in coping with them.

'Pablo' Returning

Valte said that with the expected return of "Pablo" to the country, residents are expected to heed the call of government authorities, particularly in coastal towns.

The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) hoisted public storm warning signals over 14 areas in Luzon yesterday afternoon.

Weather forecaster Jori Loiz said "Pablo" is packing maximum winds of 130 kilometers per hour (kph) and gustiness of up to 160 kph. He said "Pablo" is expected to hit the landmass of Ilocos Norte between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. Sunday.

It was located 320 west of Sinait, Ilocos Sur Saturday afternoon and was forecast to move east-northeast at 17 kph.

Signal No. 2 was hoisted over Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur, and La Union

Meanwhile, areas under Signal No. 1 are Cagayan, Calayan, Babuyan Group of Islands, Batanes Group of Islands, Abra, Apayao, Kalinga, Mountain Province, Benguet, Pangasinan, and Zambales.

Loiz explained that "Pablo has moved past the two high pressure areas (HPAs), which earlier prevented the typhoon from moving north."

"It has passed through a trough or canal in-between the two HPAs," he said.

"Pablo is expected to accelerate before its landfall. But after its landfall, the typhoon could already dissipate" he added.

'Pablo' Decommissioned

PAGASA Weather Forecasting Section Chief Rene Paciente said "Pablo" will be decommissioned from PAGASA's list of names of tropical cyclones due to the huge number of deaths it has caused.

He explained that "Pablo" is an "unusual" typhoon, mainly because of its track. "Cyclones during this period usually pass through southern or northern Mindanao or Visayas, but this particular typhoon has also moved towards the Northern Luzon area," Paciente said. (With reports from AFP, Elena L. Aben, and Ellalyn B. De Vera)