Officials face challenges with relief, sick evacuees due to lockdown in Batangas

MANILA, Philippines – Officials are facing new challenges delivering relief goods and taking sick evacuees to hospitals after Batangas provincial police put the municipalities of Agoncillo, San Nicolas, Talisay, and Taal under complete lockdown, and the municipality of Lemery under partial lockdown on Wednesday, January 15.

In a radio interview with DZMM, Batangas Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office (PDRRMO) head Lito Castro said that the lockdown effectively closed roads that the PDRRMO would have used to deliver relief goods to the over 12,000 families currently housed in 244 evacuation centers.

As donations from other local government units and private groups continue to pour in, Castro said the Batangas PDRRMO sought help from the Philippine Coast Guard to be able to transport relief goods to evacuees.

Based on the latest situation report of the National Disaster Risk Reducation and Management (NDRRMC) released 6 am Thursday, January 16, the Southern Tagalog PCG was able to dispatch assorted goods to at least 90 evacuee families in Calatagan town.

Aside from transporting relief goods, taking sick evacuees to hospitals has grown more difficult. Castro said health centers and hospitals in the municipalities under lockdown have been closed, including the Batangas Provincial Hospital in Lemery.

At least 3 evacuees have died due to cardiac arrest in Batangas, thought it is still unclear whether their deaths are related to the volcano's ashfall or were solely because of preexisting medical conditions. 

"Lahat naman po ito ay ina-address namin. Oras-oras po nagu-update ang governor para po ang lahat na nakikitang problema ay matulungan (We're trying to address all these concerns. Every hour we get updates from the governor so that we get to address all of the problems that come up," Castro said. 

Sta. Teresita town mayor Norberto Segunial Jr brought up similar concerns, adding that the town needs more volunteers and paramedics.

"Madali pong magsalita at magsabi ng lockdown at forced evacuation pero mahirap i-maintain ang mga nasa loob ng evacuation center (It's easy to just impose a lockdown or forced evacuation but it's hard to maintain conditions in evacuation centers)," he also said. 

Castro and Sengunial have begun to wonder how the province will manage if the lockdown goes on for longer. On Wednesday, the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology or Phivolcs warned the public that Taal Volcano could still have a "hazardous" eruption "within hours to days" as it has recorded a total of 466 volcanic earthquakes since 1 pm last Sunday, January 12. The volcano remains on Alert Level 4, and it remains to be seen whether the alert level will be downgraded any time soon. –