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"Trapped" Philippine quake survivors need more help

Loon, Bohol - A quake survivor cooks in the open in front of a mound that used to be the centuries old Our Lady of Light church following a 7.2 magnitude quake on 15 October, 2013
Jason Gutierrez/IRIN

As rescuers and aid workers struggle to reach central Philippine townships hit by a powerful quake, shell-shocked survivors await assistance in open air camps. The number of displaced is more than 150,000, according to the government.

In the worst-hit agricultural community of Loon town on Bohol Island, hundreds of families have built an improvised camp in front of a mountain of rubble that was once the Our Lady of Light Catholic Church, one of dozens of historic churches that crumbled in the 15 October quake.

"Our houses have been destroyed, many are heavily damaged. Those that are still standing are cracked, with the electrical wires sticking out. What will happen to us in the event of a powerful aftershock?," said Ashton Sevilla, a village councillor, as he and his wife and young son pitched a tent made from salvaged tarpaulin in the courtyard of the destroyed church.

Beside them, men, women, children - young and old - cluster in groups to cook in the open. They have enough food and water for now, but the supplies will only be good for about a week, they say.

With aid taking time to reach devastated areas due to many fallen bridges, and with damaged roads still not clear of debris from landslides, the sense of desperation is palpable.

"We're trapped here and just waiting for relief workers to reach us. We can't get out of town," Sevilla said.

Most shops have been flattened, and while many still have working vehicles, there is only a limited supply of petrol. Bridges that connect the agricultural town of about 42,000 to the nearest sea ports have crumbled.

The 7.2-magnitude quake, one of the most powerful to strike the archipelago nation of 105 million in decades, destroyed buildings and triggered landslides that buried many homes.


Of the more than three million people affected, 97,618 are in 85 evacuation centres in Bohol and Cebu provinces, the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) reported on 17 October, while another 60,848 were being assisted outside.

According to the National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council (NDRRMC) on 17 October, at least 161 people have now been confirmed dead, mostly in Bohol, with some 375 injured and 21 still missing.

Close to 20,000 homes were either partially or totally destroyed in Bohol and Cebu provinces, while many churches, schools and private and government offices were also damaged. At least 20 bridges were knocked out, while stretches of highway linking key urban centres are heavily damaged, it said, hampering relief efforts.

"We are asking the public to understand and be patient. Many of us have also been affected. We want to bring aid to those in need, but there remains a problem in terms of trying to reach them," regional disaster defence head Minda Morante said.

"We are overwhelmed, but we are trying to get to everyone as soon as we can. We understand that there are gaps in the emergency response," she said.

Humanitarian response

On 16 October, a joint team from the DSWD and the Humanitarian Country Team was deployed to the area, including the town of Carmen, the quake's epicentre, to conduct a rapid needs assessment for Bohol, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported.

Priority sectors identified so far are camp coordination and camp management, emergency shelter, food and non-food items, protection, coordination and information management, while the ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance (AHA) is chartering a flight in the coming days to deliver shelter and non-food items from Malaysia to Bohol.

"Very little assistance is getting through. There are significant logistical constraints," said David Carden, OCHA's head of office in Manila and a member of the joint team. "We need to step up our efforts to help these people," he said, citing emergency shelter and access to water as priority needs, as well as "creative solutions" in getting assistance in faster.


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