Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Flash Gordon to the rescue
FROM THE STANDS By Domini M. Torrevillas
Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Glorietta bombing last Friday, October 19, showed us that in times of disaster and crisis, Dick Gordon of the Philippine National Red Cross (PNRC) is someone you can rely on to always be there for you.

It was just like Gordon rushing to the scene like the MV Asuncion sinking in 1987, the earthquake in Central Colleges in Cabanatuan in 1990, and the Mt. Pinatubo eruption in 1991.

Dick and PNRC volunteers were the first response teams to arrive at the Glorietta shortly after the blast at 1:20 p.m. Deployed were six ambulances with 20 staff and volunteers of medical and rescue teams from different PNRC chapters to provide search, rescue and medical assistance to the victims. While the law enforcement authorities had to secure and collect evidence from the carnage site, Gordon and the PNRC teams, amidst the ensuing chaos and confusion, immediately addressed the concerns of both the victims and their loved ones by coordinating information bulletins with the hospitals and funeral homes.

Ten of the injured were treated by the PNRC team on-site while Welfare Desks were installed immediately near Ground Zero and at the Makati Medical Center and Ospital ng Makati to assist those trying to locate their loved ones who might have been inside the mall at the time of the explosion. A good number of those missing or unaccounted for were successfully located by the teams.

When the rest gave up hope and called it a day that early evening, Dick Gordon returned and stayed behind to comfort relatives still waiting at the blast site for news about their missing relatives. The scene was like that of the Zambales fishermen in 2005 who were lost at sea for 19 days and given up for dead until Sen. Gordon tapped the US Navy to track via an Orion plane the whereabouts of the men to be picked up the Philippine Navy along the coast of Palawan.

At the Glorietta 4 Friday evening, Norlita Tan, looking distraught, approached the PNRC Welfare Desk to seek help in locating her husband, Renier, who had been with her inside the mall shortly before the explosion. She just had her eyeglasses repaired at an optical shop at Glorietta 4, leaving her husband to pass time by himself strolling around the area. Little did she know that that would be the last time she would see him alive.

Gordon sought clearance from law enforcement agencies and the mall management who had secured the area and were now on clearing operations before he deployed the PNRC search-and-rescue team back to the site to search for Norlita's husband.

Utilizing search cameras and an audio probe, the team found a wallet belonging to the reported missing Maureen De Leon among the debris, near where the bodies of her companions, Gee-Ann de Gracia and Carlo NiƱo Vigamo, were found earlier that afternoon.

Gordon inspected the wallet and found the telephone number of Gerardo De Leon, father of Maureen. On the phone, De Leon told Dick that Maureen was not home. Dick advised him to proceed to the site since Maureen was not on the list of victims taken to hospitals and funeral homes. Dick also tried to track Maureen through her employer, Tots Romualdez, who was his classmate and who also joined in the vigil for news.

At that time Norlita was waiting at the site for word about her husband, with Dick and PNRC people never leaving her side, offering comfort and encouragement in that time of uncertainty. Gerardo and his wife Mercedes also received the same kind of support and comfort while they were at the site for hours on end waiting for their daughter, Maureen, to be found. Both Norlita and the De Leons believed that Renier and Maureen were still inside the building.

Dick once again deployed the PNRC search-and-rescue team back on site this time, armed with hooligan tools, a portable chain saw, K7 circular cutters and hydraulic rescue rams, a spreader, and cutters to break through piles of concrete and steel at the pinpointed target area.

Barely an hour later, at around 2 a.m., of Saturday, October 20, the PNRC team found the lifeless body of Reinier Tan buried in debris at the foot of the escalator at the atrium of Glorietta 2. With some difficulty, Dick told Norlita that Renier had been found.

Maureen's body was found at 10:30 that evening — 33 hours after the explosion — by the joint search and rescue teams of PNRC and Makati City. Upon being informed of the discovery, Dick excused himself and returned to the blast scene, leaving his wife Kate with their friends to watch the New Minstrels show.

"Even if we can't provide relief to the family members by finding their missing relatives alive, at least we provide closure to their search. This is all part of the efforts of the Red Cross to alleviate human suffering," Dick said. "We are relentless in our search. We don't give up until we find them simply because their respective families do not have plans of giving up themselves."

Those still seeking missing relatives may contact the Social Services Group of PNRC though 5270000.

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