Friday, March 02, 2012

Hard times longer for quake victims

Hard times longer for quake victims
By Cris Evert Lato
Inquirer Visayas
March 2, 2012

GUIHULNGAN CITY—Whenever a truckload of relief packs pulls over the narrow street of Sitio Larena 1 in Barangay Poblacion, couple Edgar and Casiana Absin drop whatever they are doing and run fast to make it to the line.

This has been a common scenario for two weeks since a 6.9-magnitude earthquake struck Guihulngan City and its neighboring towns in Negros Oriental.

“We won’t go home because there’s no food. Our barangay officials told us to just stay in one place so that relief goods would just be delivered in one place,” Edgar, 47, a pedicab driver, said in Cebuano.

The couple and their seven children live near the Guihulngan River in Poblacion, but they chose to put up their own tent in Larena, along with 30 other families. They survive each day on relief packs given by government agencies and private organizations.

The gymnasium of Negros Oriental State University in Guihulngan has been converted into a relief distribution center. Among its volunteers are families affected by the earthquake.

Young volunteer
Ten-year-old Keen Hailey Pitogo, along with her parents and brother, has been helping a team from the Philippine Business for Social Progress in packing relief goods for 1,700 households in Barangay Kagawasan, Guihulngan; Barangay Solonggon, La Libertad, and Jimalalud town.

“My parents have taught us to help those in need, especially that we are so lucky that no one got hurt in our family,” Keen said.

The girl has not been attending classes for two weeks. Her school, St. Francis College, was damaged by the temblor.

Thirty-nine people died because of the earthquake, 22 of them from hardest-hit Barangay Planas in Guihulngan, Councilor Ana Carla Villarmente said. Five students died from falling school walls and roofs.

City engineer Harold Indab placed damage to public infrastructure at P188 million. This includes government buildings, bridges and the Vicente Vergara Wharf, Guihulngan’s fastest gateway to Cebu province.

At least 500 porters and small eatery owners in the wharf were displaced.

Mary Susan Fortich, manager of PAR Shipping Transport, which operates passenger and cargo vessels, moved operations to their private wharf in Barangay Basak, also in Guihulngan. The company does not charge passage and wharfage fees to groups transporting relief goods and other materials, she said.

“Never did we imagine that this will happen. We improve this wharf for private use. God has a reason why he let us work on this so we can still help people. This is our way of giving back,” Fortich said.

School woes
At the main campus of Guihulngan National High School, principal Geronimo Ygona implemented a double-session class scheme so as not to disrupt school operations. Classes have two shifts—8 a.m. to noon and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.

“We have to do this since we now lack more classrooms. By the start of classes last year, we needed 53 classrooms, but we only have 37. With the earthquake, we lost nine classrooms, including a two-story building,” Ygona said.

She said the school was used as temporary shelter for 225 families from Barangays Mabunga, T. Hill and Poblacion, who occupy tents put up on the school grounds.

Moreover, the school needs 80 teachers but it has only 55. Total student population is 2,700, including 77 in an annex campus in the mountain barangay of Magsaysay.

In another upland barangay of Tacpao, 20 kilometers from the city center, Hazel Rebusquillo, the manager of Lag-asan Elementary School on the foothills of steep mountains, has asked the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology to investigate cracks in the school building.

“Cracks in various places are reported every now and then. We can only pray and hope for the best. We continue to ask help from people with generous hearts to help us,” Councilor Villarmente said.

Seventy pupils would be transferred to another school in the village proper and to Lip-o Elementary School in Barangay Sandayao, she said.