911, Cagayan responders at work during Super Typhoon Lawin
TUGUEGARAO CITY, Philippines – Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office head Bonifacio Cuarteros ordered his men to be back in the headquarters by 6pm on October 19, 5 hours before Super Typhoon Lawin (Haima) made landfall over Cagayan.
But around 10 pm, Cuarteros got a call asking for help. About 20 people needed to be rescued in Peñablanca town, ground zero of the strong typhoon, the operator said. The voice of the caller, Katherine Briosos, was shaking.
It was impossible for the responders to conduct rescue operations because strong, howling winds were already whipping through the province in the dark. At the time, Cagayan was already placed under signal number 5 – the highest tropical cyclone warning signal.
Cuarteros still took the call. Together with the 911 operator who was based in Manila, the disaster management chief of Cagayan guided the caller to keep her and her companions safe as the typhoon was battering their house.
Here is an excerpt from their conversation which Rappler is publishing with the permission of 911, Cuarteros, and the caller. (LISTEN TO THE FULL CONVERSATION HERE: 911 at work during Super Typhoon Lawin)
911: Matibay naman po ang bahay niyo, Ma’am? Bale ang apprehension niyo lang po ay ‘yung bubong? (Is your house strong, Ma’am? Your only apprehension is that your roof might be blown away?"
Briosos: Opo, opo. (Yes, yes)
911: Sir Cuarteros, bale okay naman daw po ‘yong mga pader. ‘Yung bubong lang po. (Sir Cuarteros, their walls are durable but the roof isn’t.)
Cuarteros: Bale stay calm and pray. And then kung wala na po talagang malipatan diyan, dumikit po kayo sa may wall area, at kung mayroon po kayong mga mesa na matibay-tibay. (Stay calm and pray. If it’s already impossible for you to seek refuge in another house, huddle near a wall or under a robust table.)
911: Karagdagan lang po, medyo sipat-sipatin niyo po baka may mga falling debris po. Ingatan niyo lamang po. Dumikit po kayo kung may lamesang kahoy. Lumayo po kayo sa salamin para makaiwas po tayo sa mga bubog. Ma’am, dikit kayo sa posteng matibay. Okay po, Ma’am? (In addition, be mindful of falling debris. Take care. Stay close to the wooden table. Stay away from the mirror. Stay close to a strong post. Is that ok with you, Ma’am?)
Cuarteros: Stay calm, stay calm.
The call indeed calmed them down, Briosos told Rappler in a phone interview, grateful of the responders.
“Salamat po. Kahit 'di na-rescue dahil sa lakas ng bagyo, may mga advice na ibinigay na nakatulong.”
(Thank you. Even if we were not rescued because of the strength of the typhoon, the advice given was helpful.)
Briosos said they heeded the advice of Cuarteros when the wind weakened a bit. When it regained strength, blowing off the roof of their house, they had already transferred safely to a stronger house nearby.
On Monday, October 31, authorities said Lawin affected over 187,000 families or 800,000 individuals, killing 4 and hurting at least 40 individuals.
Use the hotline to save lives
Activated on August 1, 911 is the official national emergency number that is being operated by the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG). Currently, callers pay P5.50 per call made to the 911 hotline.
“You don’t have to make follow-up calls because 911 has a system of calling you back to make sure responders have addressed your report,” Allan Tabell, chief of DILG's Disaster Information Coordinating Center (CODIX), said.
The hotline has been used increasingly during typhoons, according to Tabell. He encouraged residents in areas affected by disasters to maximize its use in saving lives.
"Sa mga sitwasyon na critical, lalo na kung medyo malayo sila sa sentro ng population, they should always call 911. Ibigay nila ang tamang impormasyon, huwag silang mataranta.
(In critical situations, especially if they are far from town centers, they should always call 911. Just provide the right information, don’t panic.)
The 24-hour service had proven effective in Davao City to ensure the speedy response of police, firefighters, and medical personnel during emergencies. President Rodrigo Duterte, the city's former mayor, replicated the same system all over the country.
According to DILG-CODIX, there have been at least 2 successful typhoon-related rescue operations through 911 since the hotline was launched. – Rappler.com