Philippine coast guard assists in Typhoon Odette disaster relief

Saving lives in Typhoon Odette-hit areas amid another Covid-19 surge.

The Philippine military and coast guard assets have joined the government in disaster relief operations after Typhoon Odette (also known as Rai) wreaked havoc in the central and southern Philippines in December 2021, affecting the country’s major islands Visayas and Mindanao. 

One of the Philippine Navy’s largest vessels, the BRP Tarlac, has recently completed its fourth relief transport mission as the military showed no signs of slowing down in their humanitarian assistance and disaster operations, a month since the typhoon struck. 

Some Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) vessels, including its biggest ship BRP Gabriela Silang, were likewise mobilized to transport relief supplies and communications equipment to affected regions. 

“The PCG, through the Task Force Kalinga, continues to utilize its available assets and resources in its humanitarian and disaster response operations to help in the recovery and rehabilitation of typhoon-stricken regions in the country,” PCG Rear Admiral Ronnie Gil Gavan, who is the head of the task force, told Maritime Fairtrade. 

As of January 19, the PCG has transported a total of 2,363.9 tons of relief goods to support the rehabilitation of the affected families of Typhoon Odette.  This operation was undertaken with the combined effort of vessels and air assets of the PCG and the PCG auxiliary aircraft (PCGA).

“The PCG also coordinated with the regional Office of the Civil Defense (OCD) for the synchronization of the whole-government approach in delivering essential goods, specially purified drinking water, directly at the barangay (village) level to help the most vulnerable families to have access to clean water, as some barangays have recorded cases of residents who fell ill due to diarrhea,” Gavan said. 

According to Gavan, they have been alternately deploying six of their vessels and one air asset in Region 13 (Caraga region) since the typhoon hit the islands of Siargao, Surigao del Norte, and Dinagat Island in December last year. 

“Officers and crew of these vessels, as well as personnel from units of coast guard district northeastern Mindanao, are involved in the humanitarian assistance and disaster response efforts for more than 182,000 affected families in the region,” he said, adding that nearby PCG districts have also provided manpower for assistance in the loading and unloading operations, rehabilitation of communities and medical support. 

Gavan said PCG vessels from Manila with cargoes of donations intended for affected residents in the Caraga region coordinated with the PCG district in northeastern Mindanao and the local government to identify which communities to distribute the supplies to. The task force head also said they are working with several shipping firms such as 2GO and Phil Span Asia which volunteered their vessels to augment the relief transport operations. 

“This pursuit is intended to increase the PCG’s transport capacity in the supply chain to ensure that in-kind donations will be delivered safely and swiftly to the most affected regions, to better serve the affected families during their rehabilitation period,” Gavan said. 

The PCG and Office of Civil Defense (OCD) loaded 2,000 pieces of tarpaulin and 300 family packs at BRP Cape San Agustin vessel for another relief transport mission from Surigao City to Dinagat Islands. 

Humanitarian aid to typhoon victims in midst of pandemic

During the current pandemic, the PCG has tapped the assistance of the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) to lessen the interaction of its personnel coming from Manila, the epicenter of the prevailing Covid surge, with personnel from the various provinces in Visayas and Mindanao to deliver relief goods. 

“To ensure smooth turn-over and hauling, the PCG coordinates with the project management office (PMO) and the PPA to minimize manpower requirement during unloading operations and cargo handling,” Gavan said. 

The PCG has partnered with the PPA on humanitarian assistance and disaster response operations through the use of modern mechanized port handling services, to reduce the exposure of PCG personnel to Covid-19 infections during the delivery of relief goods to survivors of Typhoon Odette. 

The move comes after many coast guard personnel have tested positive for Covid-19, the majority of whom were involved in the transport of relief goods to areas devastated by the typhoon. According to the PCG, the highest number of Covid-19 infections was recorded on January 14, after 328 personnel tested positive for the virus. 

Task Force Kalinga has immediately isolated the infected PCG personnel and provided them with the necessary medical assistance. To ensure that the ongoing relief operations for Odette’s victims would not be stopped, they were replaced by another batch of frontline personnel.

Gavan said the PCG is also implementing safe management measure to ensure that the same group of personnel is working together and there is no rotation of members among different groups to prevent cross-infection.

“This is to reduce infection because they all belong to one group and are not mixed where they can infect others when they return to their units after the operation.”

“Medical teams were also seconded to PCG vessels during the duration of the missions to ensure observance of health protocols during the entire activity,” he added.

All-out effort to help victims                            

Meanwhile, PCG commandant Leopoldo Laroya said he is confident that the Coast Guard can continue to move closer to the objective of full recovery of the affected families, despite another Covid-19 surge in the country. 

Laroya also thanked the government agencies and private groups that contributed their cash and in-kind donations through the PCG Foundation and Task Force Kalinga. He assured that relief transport operations will continue in the areas hit by Typhoon Odette, including remote coastal communities, even with the increasing number of COVID-19 infections. 

As of January 8, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) recorded a total of 407 deaths due to Typhoon Odette. It affected 1,140,118 families or 4,462,997 people in 6,530 barangays. 

Image credit: PCG

Liz Lagniton

Liz Lagniton

Liz Lagniton, our Philippine correspondent, is based in Manila. She is a former journalist for The Manila Times. She has an interest in writing feature stories to bring out the human interest to readers.

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