NGO: Restoring Quake-Hit Communities in Southern Philippines Could Take Months

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By Jeoffrey Maitem

An international humanitarian NGO warned Tuesday it could take months for communities in hardest-hit areas of the southern Philippines to be restored to normal after two earthquakes struck the region last week, while officials said that at least 22 people had died in the temblors.

A 6.6 magnitude quake struck the town of Tulunan on Oct. 29 and a 6.5 magnitude quake struck in the same area two days later. Both quakes were believed to be part of a “sequence of events from interrelated faults” in the region, according to government seismologists.

Most of the deaths were caused by falling debris, according to the National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council (NDRRMC). Two people were reported missing, while about 400 were injured.

British humanitarian agency Oxfam appealed for tents and other shelters for the devastated communities, saying it could take “three to six months before normalcy is restored in the affected areas.”

Rebuilding destroyed homes should be given top priority, Oxfam said.

“The impact of the earthquake is widespread. Therefore, the local government cannot be everywhere at the same time,” said Mark Timbal, NDRRMC spokesman.

Chris Staines, country director for the International Federation of the Red, said many families were in “urgent need of shelter, safe drinking water and food.”

“The earthquakes’ epicenters were recorded near Tulunan, Cotabato, but many locations in these mountainous area have been affected,” he said. “Because access is difficult, we expect the full extent of the damage to become clearer in the coming days as we reach more communities. The Red Cross is scaling up our efforts to ensure no one is left behind.”

Days after the quakes, many people were staying at temporary evacuation sites as the national government struggled to reach the affected areas. With more than 2,600 aftershocks reported so far, officials fear that many abandoned structures have been weakened to where they are no longer safe.

At the Makilala Elementary School in North Cotabato province, farmer Mailine Danola, 30, an evacuee from the village of Luayon, said her house crumbled but she managed to escape with her husband, Roberto, and their four children, aged 1 to 7.

“We evacuated carrying nothing. The assistance from the government is a big help to us,” Danola said, but wondered how long they would have to stay in the temporary shelter and when they could return to the family banana plot.

“We thought we would die. The ground shook up and down,” she told BenarNews, adding it took four hours to reach the school.

On Tuesday, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said Makilala appeared to have been the hardest hit, with more than 100,000 people affected and most of them staying in makeshift centers.

“The entire population of eight barangays (villages) in Makilala had to be evacuated over the weekend,” OCHA reported. “Local authorities continue to assess the number of casualties and damages, and numbers are expected to rise as the full impact of the earthquakes is being verified.”

Aimee Neri, and undersecretary at the Department of Social Welfare and Development, said she checked on people at evacuation centers and determined that the survivors needed financial assistance and housing as well.

“There are children getting sick and some of them need hospitalization. We are attending to their needs now. Our ground workers are conducting profiling for their financial assistance,” Neri said.

The Philippines sits in the Ring of Fire, an area in the Pacific Ocean basin known for seismic upheavals and volcanic eruptions. In April, earthquakes with magnitudes of 6.4 and 6.1 struck the northern and central Philippines a day apart, killing at least 16.

Froilan Gallardo in Cagayan de Oro, Philippines, contributed to this report.

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