A woman on Wednesday cooks near the ruins of the 180-year-old Our Lady of Light Church in Bohol a day after a 7.2 magnitude quake hit Central Visayas. Rescue workers raced to reach isolated communities to save people who may be trapped under rubble. AFP PHOTO

A woman on Wednesday cooks near the ruins of the 180-year-old Our Lady of Light Church in Bohol a day after a 7.2 magnitude quake hit Central Visayas. Rescue workers raced to reach isolated communities to save people who may be trapped under rubble. AFP PHOTO

THE government on Wednesday launched a massive search and rescue mission for survivors of Tuesday’s quake in Bohol province who may be trapped under the rubble.

President Benigno Aquino 3rd flew to Bohol to oversee the operations as disaster mitigation officials reported that the death toll climbed to 151.

The President was accompanied by Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas 2nd, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman and Cabinet Secretary Rene Almendras.

The Philippine National Police (PNP) National Operations Center in Camp Crame placed the number of earthquake victims at nearly 500, most of whom were injured in the aftermath of the tremor.

More than 100 of the fatalities were from Bohol, nine from the province of Cebu and one from Siquijor.

About 154 roads and bridges were either partially damaged or completely destroyed by the tremor, whose epicenter was south of Carmen town in Bohol.

Dr. Renato Solidum Jr., Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology chief, said the quake was tectonic in origin and 33 kilometer deep. Solidum said more than 800 aftershocks had been recorded.

Mobilize assets
Roxas directed the PNP in Region 7 to step up search and rescue operations.

“I expect the PNP to do everything possible to ensure the safety of our people,” he said.

Roxas also instructed the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) engineers to help in the structural assessment of damaged public infrastructure and vital installations, including power and water supply facilities, hospitals, public and commercial buildings, bridges and major road networks.

“We must be sure that they are safe before they are put to use,” Roxas said.

Strongest in 400 years
During his visit to the Tagbilaran’s CPG Sports Complex, President Aquino distributed relief goods to about 800 evacuees.

He then presided a command conference with Cabinet officials and local government leaders on the effects of the earthquake.

The quake was the strongest to hit Bohol in 400 years, according to the government. Soliman, it will week before residents can return to their homes.

She said if necessary, the Department of Social Welfare and Development can provide emergency shelter assistance for the evacuees.

Soliman said that as of Wednesday her agency had delivered 2,000 food packs flown in by a transport plane and 38 pieces of tarpaulin that can be used for tents.

“The next round of C-130 delivery will complete 100 more, and we are negotiating to deliver from Zamboanga City 500 shelter box tents, because we already are able to provide bunkhouses for some and the shelter box is not able to withstand the floods,” she said.

Sister province
In Albay, the Office of Civil Defense and the provincial government announced that humanitarian missions will be sent to Bohol.

The 80-man team composed of medics from the Health department, Albay Health and Emergency Management, disaster experts from the composite team of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, BFP and personnel from Albay Public Safety Emergency Management Office as well as the Provincial Social Welfare Development Office will go to Bohol to extend assistance starting tomorrow, Cedric Daep, chief of APSEMO told The Manila Times.

Bohol is the sister province of Albay where Daep conducted disaster trainings to disaster responders a week before the earthquake struck.

Albay Gov. Joey Salceda, newly chosen chairman of United Nations $100 Billion Green Climate Fund for developing countries and PDRRMC chairman in Albay, directed the BFR and TOG5-PAF contingent to engage in search and rescue mission while the medical team led by Dr. Eric Raborar and Albay health personnel will hold medical missions.

Calamity loans
Vice President Jejomar Binay instructed housing agencies to extend assistance to the earthquake survivors.

Binay instructed the Pag-IBIG branches in Bohol and Cebu to deploy roving offices so that Pag-IBIG members in areas under a state of calamity can apply for calamity loans and for loan moratorium.

Under the calamity loan program, Pag-IBIG members may avail of up to 80 percent of their total savings.

The loan may be paid over two years with a 3-month’s grace period at an interest of 5.95 percent per annum.

Pag-IBIG also imposed a three-month moratorium on the payment of housing loan amortizations.

Borrowers must file their application for moratorium within 90 days after their area is declared under a state of calamity.

Binay also said the National Housing Authority (NHA) will provide home materials assistance for residents whose homes were damaged and offer resettlement for people whose houses in danger zones were destroyed.

The Social Security System (SSS) announced a calamity relief package for its members and pensioners affected by the earthquake.

In Sulu, Muslim leaders offered prayers and sympathy to the victims of the tremor.

Fazlur Rahman Abdulla, head of the Sulu Area Coordinating Council, said acting Gov. Sakur Tan offered the prayers.

“We share with acting Governor Sakur Tan in expressing sympathies and prayers to the victims of earthquake in Visayas, and some parts of the country. We invoke Allah’s continuous protection from calamities, and also reminded to seriously invest in furtherance of individual communal disaster preparedness at our end,” Abdulla told The Times.

The Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) on Wednesday asked operators of commercial establishments to conduct earthquake drills to mitigate the effects of future tremors.

MMDA Chairman Francis Tolentino said as early as February, there has been an approved resolution directing all commercial establishments and mall operators to hold earthquake drills.

“We should conduct earthquake drills regularly and this should be done at night when many people flock to the malls,” Tolentino said in Filipino.

With Reports From Anthony Vargas, Rhaydz Barcia and Al Jacinto


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