Storm devastates South

Residents ignored warning; in dead of night, ‘Sendong’ hit

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01:32 AM December 18th, 2011

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December 18th, 2011 01:32 AM

LIFELINE. Two residents and a rescuer hold on to a rope as they wade through waist-deep floodwaters in Cagayan de Oro City at the height of the flash floods that swept through the region on Friday night. They were the lucky ones. At least 200 others did not last the night. Cagayan de Oro was the center of the storm, 23 of its barangays were submerged in floodwaters. AP

“Sendong” came in the dead of night, tearing through swaths of Mindanao not usually in the path of storms, inundating houses up to the rooftops and drowning scores of sleeping residents in the most destructive calamity to hit the South in years.

At press time, the number of dead had risen to 436, the Philippine Red Cross (PRC) said.

PRC Secretary General Gwen Pang said the latest toll on Saturday was based on a body count in funeral parlors. She said 215 died in the city of Cagayan de Oro and 144 in nearby Iligan, and the rest in several other southern and central provinces, including Zamboanga del Norte and Compostela Valley.

Many of them were women and children confirmed killed in floods and landslides spawned by Sendong.

The Inquirer bureau in Mindanao, based on reports as of 10 p.m. also from funeral parlors, estimated the dead to be over 300.

The Visayas was not spared, with the tropical storm leaving  at least 22 persons dead and 14 missing in Negros Oriental.

(For updates, go to Inquirer.net, tune in to Radyo Inquirer 990AM, or text ON INQ BREAKING to 4467.)

Many others remained missing in these areas, officials said.

Cagayan de Oro was at the center of the storm, which could explain why it suffered the most—23 flooded barangays in all, officials said. As much as 180 millimeters of rain fell on the city early Saturday, according to the weather bureau.

The rains triggered floodwaters more than a meter deep, and 95 people have been confirmed dead in the city alone, Col. Leopoldo Galon, spokesperson of the military’s Eastern Mindanao Command based in Davao City, said earlier Saturday.

Galon said soldiers from the 4th Infantry Division helped in the recovery of the bodies. Twenty of the victims, many of them children, were found in Tambo, one of the barangays lining the swollen Cagayan de Oro River.

Warning ignored

“Complacency” among Iligan and Cagayan de Oro residents unfamiliar with such levels of rainfall is to blame for the high death toll, Office of Civil Defense Administrator Benito Ramos said in Manila.

Emil Raña, local government operations officer of Cagayan de Oro, said 22 barangays went under water starting late Friday night until 2 a.m. Saturday. The floods were worsened by the high tide, he said.

Oro Alert head Armin Cuenca said residents had been warned early on of the risk of flooding but many refused to leave their homes. He said this worsened the situation when the floodwaters started rising.

Among those who were trapped in their homes in Barangay Tambo were members of the Cabillo family.

Bryan Cabillo said his wife and three children were swept by floodwaters from their home late Friday. He said his efforts to save them proved futile as he too struggled against the strong current.

Senior Insp. Elmer Decena of the Northern Mindanao Regional Public Safety Battalion said rubber boats had to be used to rescue residents starting at 2 a.m., when the floods were at their worst.

Decena said among the bodies that were immediately retrieved were those of family members of a Caucasian surnamed Frierson.

Worse this time

In Iligan City, at least 81 people were killed, among them broadcaster Enie Alzonado of Radyo Mo Nationwide, Mayor Lawrence Cruz said.

He said the floods were worse this time because even areas never flooded in the past were inundated, some more than 1 meter deep. From the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) report, at least 24 barangays were affected.

“In the flooded districts, houses were either underwater or washed away. Many families had to be rescued from the roofs of their houses,” Cruz said.

With the floodwaters having subsided, search and rescue efforts can proceed unimpeded, he said.

81 bodies in beaches

The 81 bodies were found in the beaches of Kauswagan in Lanao del Norte, Manticao in Misamis Oriental and Iligan Bay. More than 10 survivors, were plucked from the sea by rescuers, according to Alan Padilla, team leader of the rescue unit of the Iligan City Disaster Risk Riduction Council.

Lt. Col. Randolph Cabangbang, spokesperson of the Western Mindanao Command based in Zamboanga City, said soldiers had been deployed to help in the search-and-rescue operations.

Cabangbang said many Iligan residents, a large number of them children, were still on the roofs of their houses when the soldiers arrived early Saturday.

There was still no power and water services in Cagayan de Oro as of Saturday afternoon, and some 20,000 people were being housed in at least 10 evacuation centers, according to Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman.

In Iligan, “thousands” have been displaced but the actual number is still being determined, Mayor Cruz said.

The Iligan Bloggers Society has started a fund drive for the flood victims. Donors may send cash but canned goods, packed food and clothing are preferred, the group said. (For details, log on to http://t.co/9JEEYwGT)

In gold rush area

In Monkayo, Compostela Valley, five people were confirmed killed in a series of landslides that hit the gold-rich area of Mt. Diwata, according to municipal information officer Joan Pintal.

The dead included a 57-year-old woman, three children aged 4, 6 and 14, and a 28-year-old miner, Pintal told the Inquirer by phone.

She said Rosita dela Peña and her wards—Ashlia, Nasser and Rakema Tuan—and miner Julito Lumactod were killed in the landslides that hit Nang district at past 4 p.m. on Friday.

Six other landslides also hit other parts of Mt. Diwata between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m., burying houses and displacing some 90 families, Pintal said.

In the lowland barangay of Baylo, 15 houses were destroyed and seven people were injured as the Baylo River overflowed and swamped the community, she said.

The local government of Monkayo has dispatched assistance to the victims. Rescuers were assisted by members of the Army’s 25th Infantry Battalion.

In Zamboanga del Norte, Gov. Rolando Yebes said three drowned in the floods that swamped barangays in Dapitan and Polanco on Thursday, when Sendong’s fury was initially felt.

The floods “reached past a man’s height” and were worsened by the high tide, Yebes said by phone.

2 rivers overflowed

In the Visayas, floods hit Dumaguete City and the towns of Sibulan and Valencia after the Ocoy and Banica Rivers overflowed.

Six persons were killed, including two children in Sibulan. They were Miguel Angel Diputado, 5; Rachel Calijan, 33; Eric Camporedondo, 20; Marsha Rodriguez; a 2-year-old girl; and another unidentified person.

A bridge connecting Barangays Palinpinon and Balabag in Valencia was damaged.

Residents living on the Banica riverbank suddenly found their homes engulfed by floodwaters, prompting their evacuation to higher ground. Others saw their homes swept away by the raging river.

Dikes that were built to protect residential communities also gave way, prompting residents of Habitat for Humanity homes to evacuate to public buildings and churches.

Many parts of Negros Oriental were also powerless for most of the day as trees felled power lines.

Dumaguete Mayor Manuel Sagarbarria said that on Friday, he put all rescue workers and social services on alert in preparation for the storm.

Cargo vessel

Sendong also caused a cargo vessel to capsize in shallow waters.

All 32 passengers and crew of MV Ever Transport III of Kheri Lins Inc. were rescued by the Philippine Coast Guard and other groups who arrived 30 minutes after the vessel sent a distress signal.

The nine passengers—one of them a 2-year-old boy—were family members of the crew members.

“Some of our wives and family members came along because it’s Christmas,” said the ship captain, Romeo Cuevas.

The ship, carrying beer and soft drinks, was headed for Tagbilaran City in Bohol to deliver its cargo. It was to head back to Cagayan de Oro but was stranded in Dumaguete because of the storm.

Cuevas said the ship was pulling out from the seaport in Barangay Looc for shelter at around 4 a.m. when its starboard side hit the pier after being battered by big waves.

The vessel lost power and was swept ashore in Barangay Calindagan about 1 kilometer away, where it ran aground and then capsized.

Cuevas said the ship would be salvaged and dry-docked.

Moving away

The NDRRMC said that as of 4 a.m. on Saturday, Sendong was 20 km west northwest of Cagayan de Oro with maximum winds of 65 km per hour, and was moving toward the Palawan area.

The rain has stopped in many areas of Mindanao although drizzles were still being reported in the northern and eastern parts of the island late Saturday.

The storm was moving west at 22 kph and was expected to be 140 km southwest of Puerto Princesa City by today. By Monday morning, Sendong will be 430 km west southwest of Puerto Princesa or out of the Philippine area of responsibility, the NDRRMC. With reports from Allan Nawal, JB Deveza, Bobby Lagsa, Richel Umel, Ryan Rosauro, Julie Alipala, Frinston Lim and Dennis Jay Santos, Inquirer Mindanao; Alex V. Pal, Inquirer Visayas; DJ Yap in Manila, and AP

First posted 12:22 am | Sunday, December 18th, 2011

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