Behind the scenes: Task Force Ground Zero formed in Casiguran
MANILA, Philipines – On October 21, the first C-130 of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) carrying cabinet officials and relief goods from the national government reached Casiguran, Aurora. The aircraft almost did not make it to ground zero of Severe Typhoon Lando (international name Kuppo).
When the national officials landed in Baler for their first stop, local authorities dissuaded them from flying to Casiguran because the weather was bad and the town’s runway was not ready to receive the C-130.
Air authorities recommended travel by land, a 4-hour trip on bumpy road. This disappointed Interior Secretary Mel Sarmiento, who was with Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman and national disaster management chief Alexander Pama.
“Our order yesterday (Tuesday) was clear. Prepare the runway,” the new interior secretary reminded air authorities in a mix of English and Filipino.
The national officials were determined to reach Casiguran because the stakes there were high. Their first attempt to reach the devastated town was aborted on Tuesday, October 20, 72 hours after Lando made landfall – a critical time for the national government to augment local relief goods in times of disaster.
The officials wanted to personally see the situation on the ground and to hear concerns needing their attention, according to Pama. They were also setting up a task force that would assist the local government units in Aurora in their recovery efforts.
The officials decided to proceed despite the risks. In the cockpit, Sarmiento and Pama closely watched as the aircraft approached the runway. A tree blocked the landing view.
But after the pilot, Philippine Air Force’s Maj Ramil Daet, successfully maneuvered through the obstacle for a safe and smooth landing, the officials broke into applause and shared a high five.
“Now we know we can deliver relief goods,” a relieved Pama blurted out.
Waiting for relief
An old woman, her grandchild and a few other typhoon survivors were at the peripheries of the runway waiting for relief goods when the first aircraft landed in Casiguran Wednesday morning.
It carried 500 boxes of relief goods that can feed hundreds of families for three days. Another C-130 brought in at least 1,500 boxes of blankets, hygiene kits, mats and clothes. More goods are on the way, according to Soliman.
Cops and volunteers were packing relief goods when the national officials arrived at the municipal hall, where they met with local officials, including Aurora province Governor Gerardo Noveras and Casiguran Mayor Ricardo Bitong.
The LGU has been distributing prepositioned food packs, but supply has dwindled and some of the residents have not yet received assistance.
Outside the municipal hall, a Dumagat tribal chieftain and his family were hoping to get help. About 50 indigenous families who are staying in makeshift shelters in Barangay Cozo need food and shelter assistance, he said.
As of posting, Rappler is trying to reach the LGU to know whether it distributed relief goods to the indigenous peoples after the cabinet officials left.
There are about 5,000 families in Casiguran that were affected by the typhoon, according to Aurora province Governor Gerardo Noveras.
The local officials stressed that aside from relief goods, affected areas need shelter and livelihood assistance. About 80% of the town’s infrastructure and 90% of its agriculture were devastated by the typhoon based on Pama’s initial assessment.
Task Force Ground Zero
While in Casiguran, the national government formed a group called Task Force Ground Zero. It is composed of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), the Office of Civil Defense (OCD), and the Department of Health (DOH).
“Its main function is to provide the LGU with the necessary humanitarian assistance as augmentation,” said DSWD Director Tess Briones, who heads the task force.
Humanitarian groups like the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA), the International Organization for Migration (IOM), and the private sector's Philippine Disaster Recovery Foundation (PDRF) joined the take off of the team in Casiguran.
Task Force Ground Zero will initially operate for 15 days, assisting not only Casiguran but also the rest of Aurora, where a total of more than 16,000 families or 68,000 people have been affected by the severe typhoon. – Rappler.com