From typhoons to volcanoes: Philippine Red Cross responds to multiple crises

Published: 23 September 2014 10:46 CET

By Kate Marshall, IFRC

The Philippine Red Cross is no stranger to responding to multiple disasters. The organisation is based in a country of 7,000 scattered islands that experience an average of 20 major typhoons a year, as well as earthquakes, floods and volcanic eruptions.

Throughout September, the Philippine Red Cross has been kept busy responding to life-threatening emergencies after two major consecutive storms hit Luzon island, home to the capital, Manila, as well as a serious threat from the Mayon Volcano in Albay, to the southeast.

Arriving in the Philippines in mid-September, Typhoon Kalmaegi  (locally named Luis) struck northeast Luzon, affecting more than 300,000 people.

The latest weather event, tropical storm Fung-Wong (Mario) killed 11 people, affected more than 1 million and caused a trail of flood damage to homes and infrastructure in Luzon and Rizal province. Several areas in the central Visayas (one of the regions affected by Typhoon Haiyan) were also badly affected.

Early forecasts had Fung-Wong passing well north of Manila, the country’s most populous area. But it changed course rapidly and by Thursday had arrived in the capital, bringing flooding to low-lying suburbs such as Marakina and Quezon. Many of Manila’s slum dwellers live beside the capital’s major rivers and were among the worst affected as swollen flood waters swept their homes and belongings away.

Combined, the two storms have severely affected the most vulnerable people. Their misery has been further exacerbated by the rains of the southwest monsoon (Habagat), which brought torrential rain and severe flooding to Manila and nearby provinces.  

The Philippine Red Cross monitored Fung-Wong around the clock. As floodwaters rose the Philippine Red Cross deployed response and water search and rescue teams, picking up 670 people in Manila, Rizal and Ilocos Sur provinces and serving hot meals to nearly 20,000 people.

In Albay, the authorities have put the population on high alert for an imminent eruption of the Mayon Volcano following a series of volcanic earthquakes and rockfalls and after magma was spotted on the crater. Evacuation centres have been opened to deal with an influx of 32,000 people from areas surrounding the volcano.

Meanwhile, the Albay Philippine Red Cross chapter has readied its emergency response teams, including water and sanitation and welfare volunteers, while nearby chapters and Emergency Response Teams remain on standby at the national headquarters in Manila.

The Philippine Red Cross’ Secretary General, Gwen Pang, said one of the organisation’s key strengths is its capacity to respond simultaneously to multiple disasters in different areas. To help it deal with very challenging situations, Philippine Red Cross has put significant effort into build its capacity by using better logistics and updating disaster management tools.   

“No matter the magnitude of the problem that confronts us in each area, Philippine Red Cross has evolved enough to adapt accordingly,” she said. “This is due to the extensive experiences we’ve had in past major operations and the enormous effort we have put into preparing our personnel, including Red Cross volunteers to respond to any emergencies.”