2nd Command Center in Roxas City for Yolanda response

Communication has proven to be a huge challenge for disaster management officials

OFF TO TACLOBAN: Military cargo planes fly to Tacloban City to bring in equipment and personnel. Photo by Major Angelo Guzman

MANILA, Philippines — The government is setting up a second Command Center for disaster response in Roxas City, according to Secretary to the Cabinet Jose Rene Almendras. 

The first Command Center was set up early Saturday morning in storm-battered Tacloban City, which went off the grid on Friday around the time that storm surges swelled. Two military C-130 cargo planes flew in Saturday morning to bring necessary equipment including power generators and communication equipment. (READ: Radio contact center set up in Tacloban)

Tacloban is on the eastern side of the Visayas; Roxas City is on the western side. 

“The area of operation is too wide. It is not efficient for us to manage the crisis on a central location here (Manila),” said Almendras. 

Almendras said in a Saturday morning briefing that the military’s Huey choppers have flown to Roxas City to bring in personnel who will clear the runway there to allow C-130 cargo planes to also land and bring in resources. 

The hours that Roxas, Gazmin were incommunicado

The Samar provinces were also cut off the grid. Almendras said initial information is encouraging. “Surprisingly, the initial reports are not that bad,” he said. 

Almendras said the situation in Tacloban is “more alarming” in terms of casualties. 

“At this point in time, the reports of damage are significant, the reports on casualties are more alarming on the side of Tacloban. There’s none on the side of Western Visayas,” said Almendras.

“We have not received any additional casualty reports from Kalibo, from Roxas, or the municipalities along the northern seaboard of the island of Panay,” he added.

Communication has proven to be a huge challenge for disaster management officials.

Even Interior and Local Government Secretary and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin — who arrived in Leyte province Thursday, November 7, to oversee government response to Typhoon Yolanda — could not be reached until Friday night. (READ: Communications down, Mar can’t be reached)

Almendras said President Benigno Aquino III was trying to get in touch with them yesterday. “In the late afternoon, I don’t know exactly what time, the President had the chance to talk to Secretary Gazmin when the satellite phones finally started working,” said Almendras. 

“They were able to talk. The report was not good. Yesterday afternoon, we knew that Tacloban was very badly affected,” said Almendras. 

Casualties in Tacloban

Almendras said Gazmin and Roxas were at the helm of operations. He said the two Cabinet officials had to walk around the area to conduct initial assessment because the roads were not passable.

“When the weather cleared, they wanted to move around to inspect the extent of the damge but they couldn’t use the cars so they walked around. In the distance that they walked around, they already saw the casualties,” said Almendras.

“We were aware of that [since] yesterday afternoon. That is why the President ordered me to come here yesterday afternoon. We immediately started preparations for all the activities that started early this morning,” he added.

“It’s hard to quantify because of the extent of the area. This morning with the arrival of choppers, there was a reconnaisance. Even from above there, you cannot be accurate,” he said.

Gazmin in Tacloban, Mar in Roxas City

Gazmin will stay in Tacloban to supervise the Command Center in Tacloban, while Roxas is expected to fly back to Manila and later fly in to his home city, Roxas City, to supervise the second Command Center there. 

“We are just waiting for the Armed Forces of the Philippines to tell us when we can use the runway. The minute it clears up, we will fly in a C-130 to bring in appropriate equipment,” Almendras said.

Cebu province will serve as the logistics center for Tacloban. Iloilo, on the other hand, will serve as the logistics center for Roxas City. 

But Cebu will temporarily serve as the logistics center for Roxas City while Iloilo, also battered by Yolanda, is not ready. 

Almendras said commercial shipping lines have volunteered to help the Coast Guard and the Navy in moving people and goods. 

Cebu and Iloilo can serve as the drop centers. — Rappler.com