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Guimaras villagers end evacuation, start going home

November 12, 2006

By Nestor P. Burgos Jr.
Inquirer, Nov. 12, 2006

ILOILO CITY—Residents of Guimaras Island, who had been forced to leave their communities, have started returning to their homes, nearly three months after a massive Petron oil spill contaminated coastal villages of the island.

Around 100 families, or 300 persons, from evacuation centers in Nueva Valencia town went home Wednesday, said town mayor Diosdado Gonzaga in a telephone interview.

Most of the residents were evacuees staying in temporary shelters in school buildings, plazas and health and barangay centers in the villages of Cabalagnan and Tando. The two villages are among worst hit by oil sludge after the MT Solar I sank 13 nautical miles off the coast of Nueva Valencia on Aug. 11.

Gonzaga said the remaining evacuees will also return home in the next few days in areas that have been cleared of toxicity by environment officials.

The number of evacuees in Nueva Valencia and Sibunag towns reached a peak of 201 families, or around 600 persons, with most of the evacuees staying with their relatives after the evacuation was ordered on Aug. 29 because of health risks.

The residents were evacuated from their homes that were within the 100-meter risk zone from the shoreline which were contaminated by the bunker fuel. Tests showed high levels of toxicity in these areas.

On Oct. 31, the regional multi-agency Task Force Solar I Oil Spill recommended to Guimaras officials the return of evacuees from 10 areas after these have been cleared of toxic fumes and contaminated debris.

An assessment team led by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources measured the level of hydrogen sulfide in the ambient air in the 10 areas at .002 parts per million (ppm) which is below the acceptable level of .07 ppm as defined by the Clean Air Act.

Aside from the villages of Cabalagnan and Tando, the areas declared safe for the return of evacuees were Barangays Canhawan, Igdarapdap, Sitios Lusaran and Sumirib in Barangay Lapaz, and Sitio Guisi and Basioa Cove in Barangay Dolores, all in Nueva Valencia and Barangay Alegria and the island-village of Naoway in Sibunag town.

The Task Force SOS earlier set two conditions to be satisfied before an area will be cleared for the return of evacuees: The area should be cleared of oil contaminated debris and have an acceptable level of hydrogen sulfide.

Gonzaga said that residents in the affected areas have started fishing again in the waters of Guimaras.

The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources had declared fish from Guimaras waters safe for eating but advised residents not to eat shellfish.

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