Saturday, 10 October 2009

Rescue operations in full blast as floods recede in N. Luzon


MANILA - Rescue operations went full blast in northern Luzon hit by floods and landslide as tropical depression Pepeng (international codename Parma) continued to move away from the country on Saturday.

The National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC) reported that floods in various parts of northern Luzon, particularly in Pangasinan province, have started to recede, paving the way for more massive rescue and retrieval operations in the flood-hit and landslide devastated areas.

The agency said floods started to recede as rains brought on by tropical depression Pepeng (international codename Parma) began to ease.

Nathaniel Cruz, spokesperson of the Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA), said Pepeng may already be out of the Philippine area of responsibility by Saturday afternoon.

PAGASA said that as of 5 a.m. Saturday, Pepeng was moving westward, onto the South China Sea, at a speed of 13 kilometers per hour and center winds of 55 kph.

Only the provinces of La Union and Pangasinan remained under storm warning signal number 1.

Lt. Col. Ernesto Torres, spokesperson of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, said troops deployed for relief operations in Metro Manila are being diverted to northern Luzon to help rescue operations in Pangasinan and nearby provinces and the retrieval operations in Cordillera region, particularly in Benguet province and Baguio City.

Torres said that as of 6 a.m., the NDCC has counted 153 deaths from Pepeng, with 132 bodies recovered from several landslide sites in Benguet.

He said 40 people remained missing, 37 of them are victims of major landslides in Benguet province.

Local disaster officials in the Cordilleras said Friday night that there were already 137 people confirmed dead and 43 were missing in rain-triggered landslides overnight Thursday and on Friday morning.

Benguet Gov. Nestor Fongwan said Little Kibungan in Barangay Longlong, La Trinidad town was the worst hit after a landslide buried at least 30 houses in the village at 10:30 p.m. Thursday.

Officials have placed the number of residents in Little Kibungan at 150 although many residents reportedly fled the area before the landslide.

Seven more people died in a landslide that hit Tublay municipality and 54 people have also been reported killed in Baguio City due to landslides.

Mountain Province Governor Maximo Dulag said five people have been confirmed killed and 32 more missing in Tadian municipality.

Dr. Olive Luces of the Cordillera civil defense office said four major entry and exit points to Baguio, Benguet and Mountain Province remain impassable, cutting off much needed aid to those areas.

Massive rescue

Arevalo told ABS-CBN News that Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro, concurrent head of the NDCC, had ordered the military to focus on rescue operations in areas hit by landslides and deep floods in northern Luzon.

"Our focus is on rescue operations. That is our mandate right now. Troops in Metro Manila will be brought to [northern] Luzon," the military spokesman said.

The NDCC said rescue teams, including US troops, were spread in several areas in regions 1, 2 and 3.

It said a platoon from the Army's 50th Infantry Battalion was helping in the evacuations in La Union province, which was also hit by landslides and floods during Pepeng's onslaught.

Several retrieval teams were also dispatched to assist in the operations in Cordillera and evacuation teams in Ilocos Norte and Ilocos Sur.

Arevalo said majority of the troops deployed in northern Luzon were deployed to Pangasinan, which went under floods as high as 20 feet, according to reports.

The military spokesman added that the Department of Social Welfare and Development was scheduled to bring 15,000 food packs to Camp Aquino in Tarlac, which is the center of relief operations for provinces devasted by the storm in the north.

San Roque Dam not broken

Officials, meanwhile, on Saturday morning denied news circulating around Pangasinan that the San Roque Dam has been broken.

The news warned against massive flashfloods, sending several residents in panic.

Presidential Management Staff chief Hermogenes Esperon told radio dzMM that he has personally inspected the dam, and it remained "strong, and will never be broken."

Tom Valdez, vice president of the San Roque Power Corp., also assured that the dam remains “strong and firm” despite the high volume of water it has been carrying since the storm slammed into northern Luzon.

“The San Roque dam is intact. There is no crack. There will be no dam break,” Valdez assured.

Susan Espinueva, chief of PAGASA's hydrometeorological unit, also denied the rumors. She said that as of 7 a.m., the dam's water level has lowered to 288.7 meters and it has lowered its water release to 1,659 cubic meters per second.

Espinueva explained that the dam's management has succeeded in keeping the water level under the critical level of 290 meters.

Reports said more 20 villages were still flooded in Pangasinan, including the municipality of Rosales and Dagupan City.

Floods went as deep as 20 feet in the province due to heavy rains brought on by the storm and the release of water from San Roque dam, which catches water from upstream dams in Benguet province.

as of 10/10/2009 10:12 AM

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