UN, gov’t send communications teams to Tacloban

Rupert Ambil

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To facilitate relief operations, government needs to immediately restore communication in the areas affected by the super typhoon

RELIEF EFFORTS. A government relief operations team prepares to leave Manila for Tacloban City to help restore communications in areas badly hit by the super typhoon. Photo by Rupert Ambil/Rappler 

MANILA, Philippines – The United Nations and the Philippine government on Saturday, November 9, sent teams to Tacloban City to restore communication lines in the area and nearby provinces battered by Typhoon Yolanda (international codename: Haiyan).

A team from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), the Department of Health, the military and other government agencies boarded two C130 cargo planes Saturday morning and left for Tacloban City shortly past 8 am. (READ: Yolanda weakens on its way out)

The planes also contained relief goods for victims of the super typhoon that has killed at least 6 and displaced thousands. Yolanda, packing maximum sustained winds of 215 kilometers per hour near the center and gustiness of up to 250 km/h, has been tagged as one of the world’s most powerful storms in the past century.

Led by Director Felino Castro, the DSWD disaster augmentation response team plans to set up emergency telecommunications system for the disaster relief and coordination.

It’s been more than 24 hours since communication lines were cut off in Eastern Samar and Leyte. When Yolanda first slammed into Eastern Samar Friday morning, November 8, at least 5 areas in central and eastern Visayas became unreachable via cellular phone or landline including Eastern Samar; Palo, Leyte; Tacloban City’ Pacific and Panaon in Southern Leyte; and Biliran.

Communication lines were so badly affected not even government officials could be contacted including Interior Secretary Mar Roxas and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, who are in Palo, Leyte to oversee typhoon monitoring efforts.

Even radio stations, television stations and news outlets could not reach their teams.

With the inaccessibility of areas battered by the storm, the government said it is difficult to assess the extent of damage and determine relief needs for affected communities.

Outside help

The UN has also stepped in to assist in restoring communication in these areas.

Sebastian Rhodes Atampa, OCHA’s regional civil military coordination officer and head of OCHA’s regional preparedness and response unit, told Rappler his team will help “set up basic communications service in preparation for the support teams of international aid agencies.”

OUTSIDE HELP. The United Nations steps in to help restore communication in Yolanda-affected areas. Photo by Rupert Ambil/Rappler

He said the team’s priority is to “establish voice and data and possibly assist OCD (Office of Civil Defense) in communications.” Once there, it will assess the needs of the affected areas, which will determine the amount of support that the UN and the World Food Programme will send. 

The Philippine Embassy in Washington has also offered K-9 units and emergency power restoration facilities.

The Palace earlier said it would work to restore communication lines as soon as possible.

“The National Grid Corporation will prioritize the restoration of power because it is an important element in connectivity,” Communications Secretary Sonny Coloma said on Friday. “They are also coordinating with telecommunications company because even without electricity at lease mobile phones can be used.”- with reports from Natashya Gutierrez/

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