Three weeks after Typhoon Rolly (international name Goni) struck, large areas of Albay and Catanduanes are still without electricity, while cellular coverage and internet connection both remain unreliable. In the wake of damage, MSF assessment teams were dispatched to each province.
However, both teams soon met a new challenge, as typhoon Ulysses made landfall on 11 and 12 November, suspending the assessment and MSF’s response. “Our teams had to stop working and wait for Ulysses to pass,” says Jean-Luc Anglade, MSF head of mission in the Philippines.
The severity of damage to buildings and infrastructure in Albay province varies substantially. Towns on the slopes of the central Mayon volcano, facing the Pacific Ocean, where Typhoon Rolly made landfall when it was strongest, were immediately impacted. Low-lying towns were then hit by flooding rivers and lahar.
“We first visited Guinobatan town, where the typhoons had caused violent lahar. It was the first time in living memory for locals that the San Francisco and Travesia villages had been struck by lahar. While surveying the area and walking over large boulders we were told that there used to be a house where we were standing. That was quite upsetting,” says Dr. Rey Anicete, the MSF emergency team leader in Albay.
Two evacuation centers currently house 1,037 evacuees, who might need to stay longer due to the level of destruction in their communities and homes. In Guinobatan town, houses and buildings in the San Francisco and Travesia villages were buried in mud and residents forced to evacuate. Tiwi town was directly hit. All its districts faced strong winds and rains, and storm surges in coastal areas. More than a third of all houses are destroyed and almost 200 families are still staying at the Joroan National High School evacuation center.
Pre-emptive evacuations helped to minimize the loss of lives as a whole. Most of the people who had to flee have since been able to return to their homes and have started repairing the damage.
The MSF teams have now started distributing jerry cans for storing drinking water and COVID-19 prevention kits, which include two washable face masks, hand sanitizer and one face shield per person, at both two evacuation centers. Training on infection prevention and control (IPC) around COVID-19, together with donations of personal protective equipment (PPE) for the staff in the evacuation centers is planned.
“In an evacuation center, it’s especially important to maintain hygiene and social distancing measures to prevent outbreaks. Health staff and evacuees have a significant role to play in achieving IPC goals,” says Allen Borja, an MSF IPC nurse in Albay.
In Catanduanes, six of its 11 municipalities were severely damaged during Typhoon Rolly. The island suffered the most in terms of destruction and loss of livelihood. Fortunately, residents were able to leave the evacuation centers quickly to return to their houses and begin repairing them.
“The MSF team launched its response on 24 November in San Miguel, one of the four municipalities considered in the response. Together with Municipal Health Offices health workers, MSF doctors and nurses provided medical supplies for outreach activities in the most affected villages. The team started the distribution of and aqua tabs for water purification and jerry cans to store drinking water for around 2500 families,” says Dr. Hana Badando, emergency team leader in Virac, Catanduanes.
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