NEW BATAAN, Compostela Valley—Desperate families begged for food on Sunday—nearly a week after Typhoon “Pablo” struck and despite earlier assurances by Aquino administration officials in press releases that they had prepositioned emergency supplies in the potential disaster zone.
The country was spared a second punch by Pablo on Sunday. While moving out in the West Philippine Sea, the typhoon made a U-turn at the weekend and headed toward the Ilocos region, but a cold front from the northeast sucked out its strength.
By Sunday afternoon, the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration downgraded Pablo (international name: Bopha) into a low-pressure area. The once monster typhoon brought rain, but there was no report of flooding.
The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) in Manila on Saturday put the death toll from Pablo at 548 and the number of missing at 827.
However, the Office of Civil Defense in Tagum City said 592 had been confirmed killed in just two provinces—316 in Compostela Valley and 276 in Davao Oriental.
Tropical Storm “Sendong,” which struck Mindanao a year ago, left more than 1,500 dead.
Pablo swept across Mindanao with wind gusts of up to 200 kilometers per hour on Tuesday, flattening farmlands, blowing away houses and igniting landslides.
As the typhoon was barreling toward Mindanao, the NDRRMC and the Department of Social Welfare and Development repeatedly announced that preparations were in place and that urgently needed supplies had been sent to areas on the path of the 16th cyclone to hit the country this year.
‘Have mercy on us’
But yesterday in the mountain town of New Bataan, which took the brunt of the typhoon, families lined the roads holding signs begging for food.
“Have mercy on us, please donate,” read one sign held by a group of ragged kids. “We need food,” read another sign displayed by a group standing amid ruined banana plantations.
A farmer’s wife, Madeline Blanco, 36, said her family was trying to make do while sheltering in a tent on a basketball court.
“We were given rations, but it was not enough. Just rice, bread and noodles. It is not enough for me and my four children,” she told Agence France-Presse. “All we can do is wait for donations. There are cars passing by and sometimes drivers give us something,” she said.
Another farmer’s wife, Emma Toledo, 59, complained that the relief supplies from the national government had yet to arrive.
“We have not been given anything yet. Only the local government and the village officials gave us something, just some rice, noodles and dried fish,” said the mother of three.
Drivers of private vehicles also handed out donations but the lack of coordination led to more confusion.
When a truck from a local power company arrived to distribute relief supplies, it was mobbed by hungry villagers and many children were almost trampled in the chaos.
“I’ve been here for a long time. I am hungry and my children need food,” one angry woman yelled as she pushed her way to the front.’
Gov’t doing its best
A regional civil defense operations officer, Antonio Cloma, said many relief agencies, both government and nongovernment, were entering the area with supplies for typhoon victims.
“The government is doing its best to support the requirements for these victims,” he insisted.
Authorities fear the death toll could hit a thousand.
The stench of death has become unbearable that decomposing bodies uncovered are immediately buried, said Capt. Raul Villegas of the 10th Infantry Division, based in Mawab town in Compostela Valley.
“We are still hoping we could find survivors,” Villegas said yesterday. “But the chance of finding missing people alive is getting thinner by the hour.”
Search operations on Sunday were concentrated in New Bataan, where sniffer dogs were being used to lead teams from police, Army and rescue groups to bodies buried under fallen trees or thick mud that enveloped a large swathe of the desolate town.
At least 316 bodies have been found in Compostela Valley, 165 of them in New Bataan alone. The death toll there included four soldiers, Villegas said. At least 441 people are still missing in New Bataan, while 20 others in other areas of the 11-town Compostela Valley.
Villegas said Davao Oriental had recorded 276 dead, including 122 in Baganga and 103 in Cateel municipalities. Another 61 were missing in the province, he said. With reports from AFP, Jeannette I. Andrade, Dona Z. Pazzibugan in Manila; and Frinston Lim, Dennis Jay Santos and Nico Alconaba, Inquirer Mindanao