Local officials told to physically supervise disaster response

Third Anne Peralta-Malonzo

DEPARTMENT of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary Eduardo Año on Monday, January 13, reminded all local government executives in areas affected by the eruption of the Taal Volcano in Batangas to be physically present to supervise disaster response operations.

Año's instruction was directed at the provincial governors and mayors of Central Luzon, Calabarzon (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal and Quezon) and the National Capital Region (NCR).

They were told to convene their local disaster risk reduction and management councils.

"The local chief executives must also immediately activate their incident management teams, operations center and various disaster response teams. The DILG will closely monitor the actions taken by the LGUs in accordance with Operation Listo protocols," Año said.

Año also placed the Philippine National Police (PNP) units in the affected areas under full alert to provide assistance during the mandatory evacuation of residents.

"We have mobilized all PNP Search and Rescue assets in PRO IV-A for the conduct of timely and rapid disaster response," he said.

"All PNP regional directors in Central Luzon, Calabarzon, Mimaropa, Bicol and the National Capital Region have also been directed to immediately activate their respective Disaster Incident Management Task Group, Regional Reactionary Standby Force, and Search and Rescue assets for immediate deployment, as needed by conditions in their respective areas,” he added.

He said the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) will also take part in the mandatory evacuation.

He also urged the public to donate drinking water, food, medicines and other basic essentials such as toiletries, cooking stuff, and sleeping needs such as mats and blankets.

Meanwhile, the Department of Health (DOH) said the agency through the municipal and city health offices will be distributing P1.5 million worth of protection kits that will include N95 masks and eye drops to protect against ash fall.

DOH Undersecretary Eric Domingo said they will prioritize the affected population in Calabarzon.

“Pina-prioritize talaga natin ‘yung mga lugar na high risk, katulad po ng Region 4A. Magdadala na po kami doon, pati lalagyan ng tubig, mga eye drop, at water disinfectant para magamit,” he said.

For its part, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) warned sellers of N95 masks against taking advantage.

“I have asked our price monitoring teams to go out and check the supply and prices and be ready to charge erring traders for profiteering,” DTI Secretary Ramon Lopez said.

“We will suggest to retailers to ration or limit purchase per customer (to ensure that consumers will have enough supply of N95 masks),” he added.

Affected by the ash fall are parts of the provinces of Cavite, Batangas, Rizal, northwestern parts of Quezon, Metro Manila, Bulacan, Pampanga, Bataan, Tarlac Nueva Ecija, eastern portion of Pangasinan and southeastern portion of Zambales.

The DOH urged the public to refrain from going outside their residences if they have nothing important to do to avoid illnesses caused by the inhalation of ashfall.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said ash fall contains particles with carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, fluorine, hydrochloric acid, among others, which may cause nose and throat irritation, cough, bronchitis-like illnesses, difficulty in breathing and eye irritation.

The health agency reminded especially those suffering from asthma, emphysema and chronic pulmonary disease to stay indoors to avoid exposure to ashfall.

Jerry Carual of Search and Rescue Unit Foundation advised those coming from the outside to check their hair for ash before entering their houses.

“Pumasok ka sa bahay. Tinangay mo sa bahay mo ‘yun (ashfall particles). Delikado rin ‘yun, tumatama siya sa mata. Nada-damage din ang anit,” he said.

The Taal Volcano started spewing ashes at 11 a.m. Sunday. Phreatic eruptions were recorded beginning 1 p.m. and these quickly intensified to magmatic eruptions by 2:49 p.m., the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) said.

“This magmatic eruption is characterized by weak lava fountaining accompanied by thunder and flashes of lightning,” Phivolcs said.

The Taal Volcano is under Alert Level 4, which means that hazardous eruption is possible within the following hours and days.

Phivolcs Supervising Science Research Specialist Winchelle Sevilla said there is a possibility of a volcanic tsunami once the alert level of the volcano is raised to Level 5.

"Kung may mga kababayan po tayong nasa lakeshore area, posible po sigurong i-evacuate po muna natin. Kasi posible pong magkaroon ng volcanic tsunami kung sakali pong mag-intesify ‘yung aktibidad (ng Taal),” Sevilla said. (SunStar Philippines)