06 December 2006

The Albay disaster: A bomb ticking since 2000

ALBAY 3rd district congressman Joey Salceda had all the soundbites in the following quote from this Inquirer article:

“Like a femme fatale, Mayon is the culprit. Reming just pulled the trigger to the humanitarian disaster in Albay,” said Salceda, who believed that the crisis was preventable if Phivolcs had advised a forced evacuation.

He noted that the weather bureau had announced as early as Nov. 27 that a supertyphoon would hit the country.

“That should have triggered Phivolcs to issue an alert on possible lahar flows. Yet it was clear that the areas hit by Mayon’s lahar were beyond the extended 8-kilometer permanent danger zone which would have been covered by Alert 4, the highest issued during Mayon’s eruptions,” Salceda said.
But Phivolcs is not entirely at fault. As early as January 2000, the agency had issued a lahar hazard map that is uncannily accurate, as the satellite imageries on Guinobatan and Daraga, freely available from UNOSAT, show. In effect, this disaster is a bomb that has been ticking on silently since the turn of the millennium, its tonnage multiplied many times over by this year's rumblings that began on July 18, which Reming's winds finally detonated last November 30.

The burning questions are:
  • Why didn't Phivolcs and Pagasa (which is responsible for flood forecasting) come out with the critical advisories on a regular basis in the runup to Reming?
  • And what were regional authorities -- Legazpi City is Bicol's regional administrative center and home to regional offices of national government agencies -- and local officials -- from the governor to city and municipal mayors down to the barangay officials -- doing all the while?