Philippine Red Cross scales up response to Typhoon Utor

Publié: 14 août 2013 14:44 CET

By Afrhill Rances, IFRC, in Manila
The Philippine Red Cross has mobilized 200 staff and volunteers to respond to the humanitarian needs caused by Typhoon Utor, which hit the eastern coast of Luzon Island, Philippines, early on Monday morning.

Typhoon Utor, known locally as Labuyo, is the strongest typhoon to hit the Philippines this year. According to the authorities, six people have been killed, 11 are still missing, and over 153,000 people have been affected.

Classified as a Category 4 storm, Utor made landfall in the coastal municipality of Casiguran, Aurora province. Strong winds and heavy rain felt in other parts of northern Luzon as it traversed the mountain ranges before heading out to the South China Sea, west of the Philippines. As the typhoon approached, trained and equipped Red Cross emergency responders were placed on high alert, ready to be deployed.

First responders as Typhoon made landfall

“When Utor struck on Monday morning, our volunteers and staff were among the first responders on the ground,” says Ms Gwendolyn Pang, Secretary General of the Philippine Red Cross.

“We maintain contingency stocks of sleeping mats, blankets, jerry cans, mosquito nets and hygienic kits sufficient to meet the needs of some 30,000 families. This ensures we can respond swiftly to the many disasters that affect the Philippines each year,” Ms Pang explains.

The Red Cross has already provided immediate assistance, such as ready-to-eat meals for 6,000 people, and set up 13 welfare desks in evacuation centres. Additional relief supplies for 7,500 people are being mobilized from stocks pre-positioned in Red Cross warehouses in Manila. The relief items will be dispatched to Aurora, the hardest hit province.

Assessing humanitarian needs

Assessment teams have been deployed to Aurora, as well as to Nueva Vizcaya and Quirino, to determine the most pressing humanitarian needs in these areas. The results of these assessments will inform the scale of the Red Cross operation in the coming days and weeks.

To support the Philippine Red Cross in its initial emergency response, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is releasing over 320,00 Swiss francs from its Disaster Relief Emergency Fund (DREF). The funds will be used to assist 1,500 families with blankets, jerry cans, sleeping mats, hygiene kits, shelter repair kits and cash grants while the Philippine Red Cross continues assessments to identify further needs.

Community health volunteers will also be engaged to reach out to affected people with key messages about good hygiene practices, the importance of sanitation and ways to manage solid waste – all crucial following a disaster.

Preparedness and early warning

As Typhoon Utor developed in the Pacific Ocean, the Red Cross began monitoring its path. Supported by a state-of-the art operations centre, Red Cross volunteers and staff worked in shifts to monitor the typhoon in real-time and relay information, advisories and response plans to teams on the ground.

“The prompt availability of information facilitates quick decisions, which in turn helps us to mobilize resources faster and to mount a coordinated response,” Ms Pang explains.

An average of 20 typhoons make landfall every year in the Philippines. In October 2010, Typhoon Megi hit a similar area as a Category 5 super typhoon, one of the strongest on record with wind speeds of nearly 300 kilometres per hour.  Around 30 people were killed and 2 million people were affected.

After leaving the Philippines, Typhoon Utor continued its path across the South China Sea and has today hit Hong Kong and the coast of China as a Category 2 storm. The Red Cross Society of China is on standby to respond if necessary.