NEW BATAAN, Compostela Valley—Juniper Serato scanned the bodies lined up at the public gymnasium in this farming town that bore the brunt of winds gusting up to 160 kilometers per hour when Typhoon “Pablo” made landfall in eastern Mindanao before dawn on Tuesday.
Serato was looking for his family of six, including his parents, who were still missing a day after they experienced the fury of the first typhoon to hit the area in memory.
“I have difficulty recognizing the faces because they’re bloated,” he told this reporter. As he walked carefully he stopped by a familiar face, a friend. “I know him,” he said.
Gov. Arthur Uy of Compostela Valley said raging waters and mud from the mountains swept through school buildings, covered courts, town halls and health centers where residents had taken shelter.
“The waters came so suddenly and unexpectedly, and the winds were so fierce, that compounded the loss of lives and livelihood,” Uy told Reuters in a telephone interview.
He said water catchment basins for farms on top of the mountains gave way due to the torrential rains, sending down heavy volumes of water to the flatlands.
Damage to agriculture and infrastructure in Compostela Valley province could reach at least P4 billion, with the typhoon destroying 70-80 percent of plantations, mostly bananas for export, Uy said.
Around 245 people were still missing in New Bataan alone, Uy said, adding the area was initially cut off by roadblocks. Communications were down and power had yet to be restored in the area.
“The last thing my mother said was ‘I love you,’” said Julius Rebucas, whose mother and brother were caught in flash floods in Compostela Valley. “It’s sad because I no longer have a family.”
As of noon Wednesday, 79 bodies had been recovered in New Bataan, including four soldiers of the 66th Infantry Division, whose encampment set up by two platoons was washed away in flash floods ignited by Pablo as it swept ashore from the Pacific, where it emerged as “Bopha,” the international designation. Another 21 people were killed in Moncayo, also in Compostela Valley.
Official death toll: 274
All told, 216 people died, according to a count as of 4:30 p.m. by Inquirer reporters at the scene and accounts by municipal, civil defense and military officials.
Aside from the fatalities in New Bataan and Moncayo, there were also 110 deaths in Davao Oriental, two in Misamis Oriental, two in Misamis Occidental, one in Bukidnon and one in Cebu.
In Manila, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) put the official death toll at 274 as of 7 p.m. The NDRRMC said another 279 people were missing and 339 injured.
The Philippine Army’s 10th Infantry Division said there were 224 reported dead in Compostela Valley and Davao Oriental as of 4 p.m. Wednesday.
The NDRRMC also said that 36,000 families—around 180,000 people—were in evacuation centers.
President Aquino on Wednesday sent Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas to the disaster zone to check on the extent of damage. He said P8 billion would be available for relief. Malacañang said Mr. Aquino himself was planning to visit the typhoon-hit provinces.
It was the second whammy to hit Mindanao, which Tropical Storm “Sendong” pummeled leaving 1,500 people dead last year.
The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration on Wednesday lifted storm signals in all but the provinces of Palawan, Oriental and Occidental Mindoro and Antique as the 16th typhoon of the season headed out into the West Philippine Sea.
Pablo weakened after it raked Central Mindanao and provinces in the southern section of the Visayas, sparing from damage beaches and dive resorts in northern Palawan Wednesday.
Col. Leopoldo Galon, spokesperson of the Eastern Mindanao Command, said soldiers from the 66th Infantry Division were in a temporary camp at Andap village, which was hit by flash floods on Tuesday morning. Two platoons, of about 40 soldiers, survived, Galon said.
Maj. Gen. Ariel Bernardo, commander of the 10th Infantry Division, said two dozen people had been pulled out under layers of mud and were being treated in local hospitals. Video showed dozens of bloodied survivors, their faces covered with thick cake of mud, at a shelter in the province.
In Davao Oriental, the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (PDRRMC) recorded as of 3:30 a.m. Wednesday 110 people killed, including 59 in Cateel, and 31 in Baganga, where Pablo made its landfall from the Pacific, 15 in Boston and one each in Tarragona and Manay towns.
Senior Supt. Rommil Mitra, police chief of Davao Oriental, said most of those killed in Cateel and Boston towns were crushed by fallen trees, collapsed homes and flying debris.
“The winds were really very strong,” Mitra said. “I was told the force of the wind could even lift an Army truck loaded with troops from the ground.”
The towns of Baganga, Cateel and Boston have remained inaccessible because the Mandulog Bridge in Caraga town collapsed at the height of the storm.
Cateel wiped out
“There’s still no electricity there. The communication lines are still down,” Galon said.
“There are very few structures left standing in the town of Cateel,” Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman told Agence France-Presse.
“We need to rush to these areas body bags, medicines, dry clothes and most importantly tents, because survivors are living out in the open after the typhoon blew away homes and rooftops,” she said.
“The bodies are left lying on the ground in the open in New Bataan and we don’t want to risk the spread of disease,” Soliman said.
In Misamis Oriental, two men died when a tree fell on their houses in Salay and Lagonglong town, said Maricel Rivera, the provincial information officer.
Rivera also said 3,467 families moved to evacuation centers across the province’s 23 towns and two cities.
In Bukidnon, Valencia City Mayor Leandro Catarata said a child died after a coconut tree fell on him. Catarata also said two bridges were damaged by swollen rivers.
In Misamis Occidental, two persons died, according to Paul de Barras, PDRRMC officer. He said Jigger Ian Gamotin, 31, of Panaon town, and John Sumile Bonasil, 17, of Baliangao town, were hit by falling trees.
Search and rescue
Most of the affected areas remained isolated due to power outages, lack of communications and destroyed roads and bridges. Helicopters were ferrying troops in search and rescue operations.
Thousands of people remained in temporary shelter areas as local officials appealed for food, water and warm clothes for displaced families. Schools remained closed and dozens of domestic flights were suspended Wednesday. With reports from DJ Yap and Nikko Dizon in Manila; Nico Alconaba, Bobby Lagsa, Germelina Lacorte, Ryan D. Rosauro, Inquirer Mindanao; Redempto Anda and Maricar Cinco, Inquirer Southern Luzon; and AFP