Storms in Philippines: 1 400 dead or missing

Relief agencies battled bad weather to deliver supplies to storm-ravaged areas of the Philippines on Monday as the toll of dead and missing from two storms in one week exceeded 1 400, officials said.

A tropical storm that hit the country on November 29 — locally named “Winnie” — left 669 dead and 697 missing, most of them from the three north-eastern coastal towns of Real, Infanta and General Nakar.

Colonel Jaime Buenaflor, the military commander in the area, said there were 607 dead and 695 missing in the three towns, according to figures from his soldiers who are helping in the relief effort.

The rest of the storm’s victims were in other parts of the country as heavy rains brought flooding, landslides and other hazards such as fallen trees and power lines.

Typhoon Nanmadol, which hit on Thursday last week, caused another 38 deaths and left another 33 people missing, the civil defence office said.

In the country’s most devastated area, the three towns were hit by flash floods, mud, rocks and thousands of fallen logs that cascaded down the mountains, sweeping away whole villages.

The full scope of the disaster was not immediately known as the storm toppled bridges and covered roads with landslides, isolating the three towns from road travel while the succeeding typhoon’s strong winds and rains made sea and air travel dangerous.

As the weather improved slightly, a few helicopters arrived in storm-hit towns while naval vessels, bearing relief goods, reached the port of Real town where hundreds of people had been waiting to flee the disaster site.

Navy spokesperson Captain Geronimo Malabanan said another naval vessel with rescue teams and supplies will later try to dock at the fishing port of Infanta.

“Our biggest problem is the weather and the big waves and, at night, all the floating logs in the sea,” he said.

Local army commander Brigadier General Efren Orbon said a special 26-man volunteer rescue team from local mining companies has arrived in Real to attempt to recover some of the 100 people missing after a two-storey, makeshift evacuation centre collapsed at the height of the storm.

Orbon conceded there is little chance anyone is still alive after a week but said: “Even if they are dead, we can at least present the bodies to the families.”

Air force spokesperson Colonel Restituto Padilla said four helicopters flew relief goods and medicine into the three towns when the weather briefly cleared up. But only two helicopters managed to return to their base before the clouds closed in again.

The private sector has volunteered four helicopters to help but the air force has advised them to hold off until the weather improves, Padilla said.

Padilla said floodwaters that stranded people on their rooftops has receded.

“The requests for rescue have subsided. Most of what we fly out are patients and evacuees,” he added.

The main priority now is flying in medicines and medical personnel to prevent epidemics from breaking out in overcrowded evacuation centres, he added.

Dressmaker Florentina Bautista (65), whose home was destroyed by the flood, walked across a swollen river and waited a whole day for relief goods in the town centre but received nothing as the supplies ran out.

She begged passers-by to share what little they had for her and her three grandchildren.

“Our problem is we have nothing to eat and nowhere to live,” she appealed.

Rhodeline Cagas (31), who was collecting scrap wood on the shoreline to make a makeshift shelter, said she, her husband and eight kids waded to safety during the flood.

“We were not able to save anything except the clothes on our backs,” she said, adding that her husband had trekked into town to try to get a share of relief supplies.

She received some rice earlier but “that is not enough for my family”.

More private vessels arrived at the Real port, including some pressed by the government to transport people who had been waiting for days to leave the area.

Benjamin Ritual, a captain of small ferry, said his boat does not normally service Real but the coast guard compelled him to go there because of the huge crowds wanting to leave.

Carpenter Rizalito Leynes said he had been waiting since Sunday to take his wife and five children by boat to safety in Manila.

“We have no water, we have no food, no bathroom. The children may get sick. My house has been buried in mud. I will bring my family to [Manila]. We have been waiting since yesterday,” he said. — AFP

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