By Matt Cochrane
The full impact of the earthquake that hit western Visayas and some parts of northern Mindanao is only now becoming apparent more than three days on from the disaster. According to authorities, the magnitude 6.9 earthquake claimed at least 22 lives, with a further 71 people missing and 52 injured.
Philippine Red Cross emergency response and medical teams – deployed from the capital Manila following the earthquake – reached the districts of Guiholngan, La Libertad and Jimalud, all in the worst-affected province of Negros Oriental, the day after the quake.
According to the teams, people are still in a state of panic with hundreds of aftershocks recorded. Some people living along coastal areas have fled to higher ground for safety. In Guiholngan, approximately 200 families have sought shelter in the compound of the distrcit hospital, joining dozens of people injured in the quake.
Pablito Nilo, a member of the Red Cross emergency response unit in Guiholngan, says that most of the patients were outside the old hospital building for fear that it might collapse. The Philippine Red Cross will set up a large tent on the grounds to act as a temporary emergency hospital, using supplies that were provided by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
Red Cross team-leader Jojo Natividad says much of the infrastructure across Negros Oriental has been damaged. 11 bridges have collapsed, making many roads impassable and leaving some neighbourhoods (or barangays) isolated. Alternative routes have to be found, which is delaying efforts to reach remote communities. Power and water sytems in Guiholngan have also been damaged.
"The earthquake that hit Negros Oriental poses a humanitarian challenge to everyone,” said Gwen Pang, Secretary General of the Philippine Red Cross. “Most of the places affected were isolated due to landslides and collapsed major bridges. It will take a long time for the affected people to return to normalcy. "
Initial assessments suggest that the immediate needs are for water, food and sleeping materials. Within hours of the earthquake, the Philippine Red Cross, with the support of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, deployed 500 food packs, 1,000 bottles of drinking water, 1,000 sleeping mats, 1,000 blankets and 500 jerry cans, 30 tents and one mobile warehouse to serve as the temporary hospital in Guiholngan.
A further aid consignment, including a mobile water treatment plant, generator, light tower, electric fans and rubber boots, has also been deployed to Negros Oriental. Social workers from the organization are on their way to the site to offer psychosocial support to traumatized families and to help find people who are still missing.