Southern Leyte residents abandon villages for fear of landslides
The evacuees are now staying in the town’s gym, parish center and schools. Last Saturday morning, the municipal government led by town mayor Lorraine Asares and vice mayor Diego Yuboc went around the barangays and dispatched dump trucks to convince the residents to move to safer grounds.
Traumatized by the December 2003 landslides where about 120 people died in Punta, a fishing village in San Francisco, the residents heeded the appeal of local officials who have been vigilant every time continuous rains are experienced.
The small dam for Habay’s irrigation system was damaged as Habay River was swollen, forcing over 250 families in the adjoining barangays of Habay, Gabi, and Bungawisan to leave their homes. Over 100 families have also left Marayag due to flooding.
Close to 100 families have also left their homes in the mountain village of Kangkasto. Meanwhile, over 50 families have also left their homes in Barangay Sta. Paz where a fracture along the mountain was found by government geologists who surveyed the island immediately after the December 2003 tragedy.
No casualties have been reported in San Francisco although eight have been reported to have died in Kahupi-an, Sogod, in mainland Southern Leyte.
San Francisco residents said relief goods from nongovernment organizations, led by Plan International, have started arriving. Plan International is among the numerous nongovernment organizations that helped in the relocation of Punta residents displaced by the December 2003 landslides.
According to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Southern Leyte is characterized by steep slopes with highly fractured rocks underlying the area due to the numerous geological structures related to the Philippine Fault that transverse the whole island of Leyte. Extended heavy rains could easily trigger landslides. The southernmost island in Leyte, Panaon Island is facing the Mindanao Sea where the Philippine Deep is located. It is barely two hours away by motorized boats from Surigao in Mindanao.
According to DENR, the 2003 disaster, as similar ones in the past, was a result of the confluence of many factors: weather perturbations, lack of appreciation of the dangers posed by human settlements located in geo-hazardous areas and the permanent conversion of forest lands into non-forest lands. As early as 1928, Panaon Island had been converted into coconut lands and agricultural areas.
According to the DENR, December 2003 tragedy only underscored the importance of preserving the forests and the urgent need to rehabilitate the denuded mountains through massive reforestation or tree planting. But more important is the need to impress on everyone the urgency of rationalizing land uses and human settlements.