MANILA – Seven survivors of super typhoon Yolanda who were killed in a tent fire in Tacloban City were due for relocation to a much better shelter, Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman said Thursday.
The continuing struggle of typhoon survivors in Tacloban was highlighted once again after a mother and her six children died after being trapped inside a burning tent in Barangay Costa Brava, San Jose district on Wednesday.
Five of the children – aged 4 months to 12 years - died on the spot. The mother and her 7-year-old son later succumbed to their wounds in the hospital.
In an interview on dzMM, Soliman said the victims were among those who were due for relocation to what the government calls a ''transitional shelter'' – a temporary housing structure made of indigenous products such as Anahaw leaves and coco lumber.
Soliman said the government was targeting to transfer some 3,000 typhoon survivors in Yolanda-hit Tacloban by the end of June in preparation for the wet season.
She noted that the transfer of the families from the tent city to the so-called transitional shelters in San Jose district suffered a delay after the local government ordered a stop of the construction and asked that the structures be built in a different location.
''Two days ago pinahihinto ng lokal na pamahalaan ang pagtatayo at ang limang istraktura eh pinababaklas at pinalilipat,'' Soliman said.
''Nagulat ang partner namin na IOM (International Organization for Migration) kasi biglang pinahinto."
Soliman, however, quickly clarified that she was not blaming the local government for the fire deaths, but was merely stating the turn of events.
''Complicated process po ang paglilipat kasi talagang mahalaga na ang lupang patatayuan namin eh may pagpayag po mula sa local [government],'' she said.
Zipper door blamed
Meanwhile, Tacloban Police officer-in-charge Chief Inspector Romulo Flores said the victims got trapped inside the burning tent because they were unable to find the zipper-locked door.
He said based on the information the investigators have gathered, the mother, Maria Eliza, was breastfeeding her baby when the gas lamp inside the tent was accidentally toppled, triggering the blaze.
''Iyung gasera niya, naiwan nilang nakasindi. Dahil sa pagod, hindi namalayan na nasagi niya yung gasera. Dahil nga sa light material o canvas lang ang tent, agad na nagliyab ito,'' Flores told dzMM.
''Ang disenyo kasi ng tent na ito, kapag nasa loob ka, ang pintuan nito is zipper. So nung masagi nila yung gasera, nag-panic na ang mag-iina, hindi na nila agad nabuksan ang tent. Hindi sila agad nakalabas, so ang ginawa na lang ng ina, dahil sa nagpanic na siya, eh niyakap na lang niya ang mga anak niya."
Hasten rehab efforts
Following the tragedy, various groups have renewed their calls for the government and aid organizations to hasten and strengthen rehabilitation efforts in the typhoon-hit areas.
"This is a double tragedy for the family, to have survived the typhoon only to be killed as they were just starting to rebuild their lives,'' said Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNCHR) Representative in the Philippines Bernard Kerblat.
''This accident is a somber reminder that the authorities and aid agencies need to strengthen existing efforts to sensitize the community on fire safety and mitigation measures, and seek permanent housing solutions for IDPs (internally displaced persons)."
In a report by the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines News (CBCPNews), Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo asked the government to double its rehabilitation efforts in view of the scheduled visit of Pope Francis in 2015.
''First of all, the government must strive to hasten the rehabilitation because if the visit of the Holy Father pushes through, the Philippines will be the focus of the international community," Pabillo told CBCPNews.
''It should be shown to the world that we did something and so it will not turn disgraceful."