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5 hurt as billboards fall along E.D.S.A.

Agencies point fingers
By Abigail Kwok
INQUIRER.net
First Posted 15:52:00 10/13/2008

MANILA, Philippines -- (UPDATE 2) Three billboards on the south- and northbound lanes of EDSA fell when a small cyclone swept through the highway during a downpour Monday afternoon, injuring five people and snarling traffic, authorities said.

The victims, who were rushed to the East Avenue Medical Center, were identified as Allan Madrelejos, Gerry Alano, Mercy Alano, Diane Inopya, and Mary Joy Orosco. Orosco initially refused to go to the hospital but agreed after reportedly feeling numbness in her arms.

All victims suffered injuries ranging from fractures to minor scratches.

Miguel Melgar, a village councilor of West Crame, who was at the scene of the incident, which happened around 2:20 a.m. said a Jollibee billboard fell on the St. Jude bus terminal, hitting a Bicol-bound bus but injuring none of the passengers.

“Biglang buhos ng ulan sabay malakas na hangin. Tapos maya-maya pa narinig na namin parang may bumabagsak sa itaas [There was sudden rain then strong winds. Then we heard something falling from above],” bus driver Lito Loria said. “Kung hindi pa ako nakatakbo sa loob ng bus, eh di natamaan din ako [If I hadn’t run inside the bus, I would have been hit, too].”

The roof of the bus caved in as the entire 80-by-90-foot Jollibee billboard fell on top of the bus terminal. It also hit a store and smashed a plastic table inside the terminal.

Loria said passengers inside the terminal panicked and either rushed out of the terminal into the streets or into waiting buses.

The billboard also hit the electricity transformer in the area, shutting down power to a number of homes.

Two more billboards also fell along EDSA, said Roberto Esquivel, head of the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) sidewalk clearing operations.

A Purefoods billboard fell on top of the abandoned Auto Avenue car repair shop, reportedly owned by former senator Franklin Drilon, said Emmanuel Cantupay, executive director of the Department of Public Works and Highways National Building Code Development Office.

Another billboard, on top of Top Guy's establishment in EDSA northbound lane along P. Tuazon Boulevard in Cubao, also fell but its fabric was folded back immediately, preventing any damage, Cantupay said.

The MMDA’s Esquivel pinned the blame for the falling billboards on the DPWH, the Quezon City Engineer's Office, and advertising agencies. He said the Jollibee and Purefoods billboards were illegal.

He said the billboards were too close to the road, adding they would request the DPWH to review the giant billboards on EDSA to check whether some might not be following standards.

However, Cantupay said the owners of the two billboards were “fly-by-night” and not members of the Association of Outdoor Advertisers of the Philippines. He added they were not granted any clearance to set up the billboards.

Cantupay also blamed the Quezon City government for issuing permits for the two billboards.

Esquivel said the two billboards were “too big,” especially since these were on top of weak structures. The MMDA will use pictures of the billboards as evidence in cases they plan to file against the owners.

He also urged commuters and those injured to file charges against the advertising agency that owns the fallen structures.

Cantupay said they are now working closely with AOAP to come up with stricter guidelines to outdoor advertisements.

“That's why we are now limiting the sizes [of billboards]. We are now drafting the additional rules and regulations. So for areas [that are] newly-developed, it’s okay that the billboards are large. But in highly developed areas, the size should be 40-feet-by-60 feet. But these [fallen billboards] are 80-feet-by-90 feet already. So we are recommending these for demolition. These are prohibited,” he said.

Passengers stranded when the billboard hit the bus will be provided an alternate vehicle, St. Jude Transit general manager Alex Nuñez said.

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