NEW BATAAN, Compostela Valley, Philippines – With an estimated 300 people dead around them, the people of Compostela Valley are scarred and will remain so for a long time.
This was illustrated by how they sharply reacted to rumors of a fresh catastrophic flood that was said to be heading toward them.
Raul Villocino, provincial disaster risk reduction management officer, said residents fled to as far as Tagum City to avoid the rumored flood, which supposedly would come from Cateel in Davao Oriental. The rumor was baseless, said Villocino, who appealed for calm.
“About 500 families from New Bataan and other parts of Compostela Valley arrived here late last night and sought shelter at the Rotary Club gym. We provided them food and water and would be sending them back home soon,” Tagum City Mayor Rey Uy told a local radio station.
“We were very scared after a text message began circulating, warning us of floodwaters from Cateel on the way here. Many people are now here at the municipal hall,” said Jaymarie Dogos, 18, of Nabunturan town.
Major Jacob Obligado, commander of the Army’s 10th civil-military operations battalion, said the death toll from Pablo’s wrath could be massive than previously thought. That’s why people did not want to take chances, he said.
As of early Thursday, 89 bodies had been recovered in this town alone. Another 391 were reported missing.
In many parts of the province, the devastation turned once lively neighborhoods into ghost villages.
At least 1,000 families from Poblacion here were evacuated, mostly to the municipal gymnasium, which also sustained damage.
“Search and retrieval operations continue. The town lacks electricity and telecommunication signal is down,” said Mayor Lorenzo Balbin. “What we need badly now is food and water.”
Severely damaged roads and toppled bridges hampered relief distribution, officials said.
Army trucks ferried sacks of relief goods into the badly affected areas.
Balbin said floodwaters mixed with mud and downed trees came cascading from upland Andap village past 7 a.m. on Tuesday, decimating communities below it.
“It was like a cloudburst but much stronger,” he said, adding that Pablo left the town “utterly devastated.”
“We were not able to grab anything, only the clothes we’re wearing,” said Imelda Tabino, 43, a resident of nearby Poblacion village. She was happy she was able to escape with her two daughters, age 10 and 7.
There are not enough shelters for the evacuees. Many buildings were destroyed.
In the mining town of Monkayo, tent villages have sprung up along the roads littered with debris from blown houses, downed coconut trees.
A massive landslide hit the gold-rich Mt. Diwalwal village, leaving at least 55 people dead in the area, police said. They were either gobbled up by the cascading mud or hit by falling trees. “The people were prepared but somehow underestimated the strength of the storm,” said P02 Rex Melgo.
Provincial health officer Renato Basanes said teams had been mobilized to provide medicines to evacuees. “We are conducting orientation regarding sanitation, especially proper waste disposal. We also installed portable toilets in these areas,” he said.
In Compostela town, 21 people were killed, according to Capt. Raul Villegas, of the 10th Infantry Division. He said Montevista had seven deaths and Nabunturan, eight; Maco and Mabini, four each; and Pantukan, one.
In Davao Oriental, at least 128 were confirmed dead as of 6 a.m. on Thursday, said Lt. Christy Isis Achanzar, 701st Infantry Brigade information officer. He said Cateel had the most number of fatalities with 59, followed by Baganga with 31; Boston, 27; Caraga, nine; and Manay and Tarragona, one each.
In Surigao City, three fishermen were rescued but 17 remained missing. Coast Guard and Philippine Navy ships are taking part in the search and rescue operations. With reports from Orlando Dinoy, Danilo Adorador III, Aquiles Zonio, Ryan Rosauro and Bobby Lagsa, Inquirer Mindanao