Romualdez couple begins to build Tacloban’s ‘ resilient city’
Despite the efforts of the local and national governments to prepare for Super Typhoon Yolanda in November 2013, Tacloban City still lost thousands of lives to one of the strongest storms to ever hit land.
Almost a year later, Mayor Alfred Romualdez of Tacloban City is determined not to let such a tragedy happen again.
“My purpose is [to educate that]we are hit by typhoons every year and we have to study this carefully so we could save more lives in the future storms and [other natural]disasters,” Romualdez declared at a news conference held at the Patio Victoria in Intramuros, Manila.
Together with his wife Councilor Cristina Gonzales-Romualdez, it was the first time the couple touched base with Metro Manila’s entertainment press since Yolanda.
Revisiting their ordeal, Romualdez related how local and national officials, including representatives from the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council convened two days before the super typhoon was expected to hit land.
Despite the preparations and safety guards set in place, the monstrous force and storm surge that struck the Visayas still took many lives and destroyed coastal areas, including downtown Tacloban.
Looking back, the mayor identified a major mistake in disaster preparedness practices, and is now bent on correcting it. It’s not enough to prepare just days before a storm, but “24/7, 365 days a year.”
He added that studies on climate change should be continuous to fully understand the situation, and suggested that maybe a new government agency should be created to do this for a concentrated effort.
Romualdez believes that taking such a big step will help in educating the public on what is the “new normal” in weather changes, specifically stronger and more frequents storms.
“Kailangan i-prepare na natin ang next generation . . . We need to have a new mindset in addressing natural calamities that hit our country,” he emphasized.
He further called on Congress to revisit the laws related to natural disasters in order to improve on them for the public’s safety.
Mayor Romualdez and Councilor Cristina also gave an update on the current state of Tacloban City.
They reported that while most of the business in the downtown area is back to 90 percent, those affected in coastal areas are still left to deal with the lack of proper homes.
Presently, close to 1,000 families are still living in tents for temporary shelter, while they wait to be relocated to transitional homes. In total, 6,000 families who lost their homes during Yolanda will be transferred to new permanent housing sites.
To address this problem, the local government in March completed a master plan for Northern Tacloban. This is a new township far from the city’s danger zones, which are areas near the sea and others parts of the city end up submerged in water during typhoons.
The township will also provide water supply, electricity, schools, markets and livelihood to its citizens.
“This is Tacloban’s response to the need to build resilient cities,” declared Romualdez. To be able to do this, the mayor cited the need for technical experts like urban planners, and oceanographers for cities or towns with coastal communities.
As of now, the local government is still waiting for the master plan to be returned from the Office of the President, after its approval was announced at the State of the Nation address in July.
“We’d like to see that so we can move forward and implement it right away,” Romualdez stated.
As councilor and first lady of Tacloban, Cristina has thrown her full support behind the local government’s continuing efforts in rehabilitating the city and rebuilding a resilient township.
She is also personally focused on protecting Tacloban’s women and children. She shared, “Following Yolanda, the first thing I did as a woman, councilor, and the wife of the mayor, was to organize and establish safe areas for women and children in each barangay together with Unicef.”
Besides this partnership, Cristina also tapped the help of another international humanitarian agency Habitat for Humanity, and now serves as one of its ambassadors.
To this day, she still shivers when recalling what she and her two daughters Sofia, 14, and Diana, 10, endured during Yolanda as they escaped their flooded home, while also worrying about her husband who was on the ground with his men.
“With God’s grace, we survived such a terrifying experience,” she said.
Preparing for the Pope
Tacloban City is also getting ready for His Holiness Pope Francis’ scheduled visit in January 2015.
“Preparations are being made now and they involve coordination between the Vatican, the Archdiocese, the national agencies, and the local government unit,” said Romualdez.
And while they are eager to do everything to make the Pope’s visit fruitful and highly successful, the mayor noted that they do not have the authority to plan what is to happen then.
“The one who decides is the Pope himself through the Vatican.” Romualdez clarified. “We prepare the facilities and secure the visit, hanggang doon lang.”
Nevertheless, Tacloban’s mayor is elated by the impeding visit. “When we learned that the Pope really wants to go to ground zero and be with the poor, I was so happy. I thought the Pope is indeed so noble and what they say about him is true. God is great.”
Tacloban City is just one of the Yolanda-hit areas that Pope Francis is scheduled to visit from January 15 to 19. His visit will also mark the 20th anniversary of World Youth Day Manila, which was led by St. John Paul 2nd.