The death toll from Typhoon “Pablo” has topped 1,000 with hundreds more missing and feared dead, the government said Sunday.
“The death toll will go higher,” said Benito Ramos, executive director of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC). “We found a lot of bodies yesterday (Saturday), buried under fallen logs and debris.”
The council said the typhoon affected 710,224 families composed of 6,203,826 people—up a million from last week’s figure.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has issued a global appeal for $65 million to help the Philippines cope with the disaster.
Pablo (international name: “Bopha”) swept across eastern Mindanao on Dec. 4 with monster winds gusting up to 200 kilometers per hour, causing flash floods and landslides, flattening communities and banana plantations, and prompting President Aquino to declare a state of national calamity.
Ramos said the confirmed death toll had reached 1,020 as of yesterday. He said 844 people remained missing, about half of the number fishermen who ventured out to sea before the 16th cyclone of the season struck.
He said the toll would exceed the 1,268 confirmed dead from Tropical Storm “Sendong” (Wushi), which hit Mindanao exactly a year ago Sunday.
“We prepared. We were just simply overwhelmed,” said Ramos, who had expected “zero casualties” as a result of highly publicized contingency plans put into effect as Pablo approached. “They did not expect this intensity. The last time [this part of the country] got hit by a strong storm was 1912.”
Three days after the storm struck, Jerry Velasquez, head of the UN Office for Disaster Reduction, issued a congratulatory statement, saying Philippine early warning systems saved many lives.
In fact, Ramos said, Pablo destroyed many evacuation centers. He said two weeks after the typhoon made landfall, more than 27,000 Filipinos were still in these facilities.
Col. Lyndon Paniza, an Army spokesperson, said, “We are on (body) retrieval mode already. We are done with search and rescue.”
Paniza, who oversees the hardest-hit regions, which suffered more than 960 dead, said he expected the death toll to rise further.
“It has been 12 days already so it looks like [survival chances] are doubtful,” he said.
Among the fatalities were seven soldiers who were killed and four who remained missing after they were hit by flash floods while doing relief work, he said.
In New Bataan, Compostela Valley, which suffered more than 500 dead, including 235 bodies that were still unidentified, people still struggled to recover, building makeshift shelters out of scrap wood and rags.
Mayor Lorenzo Balbin said the death toll in the town may even be larger than the official list because many transients, who passed through to work on small-scale mines and plantations, did not register as residents.
With no one to report them missing, their deaths may go unnoticed, he said.
The situation in the town, which was largely leveled by the typhoon, had improved slightly, as more relief aid was reaching the area.
Trucks from government and private relief agencies were seen entering New Bataan, handing out much-needed food to villagers still stunned by the storm’s fury.
Balbin said the focus now was on finding new crops to replace those destroyed by the typhoon.
The storm has caused massive damage to infrastructure and agriculture, destroying large tracts of coconut and banana farms.
The NDRRMC initially estimated damage to crops and public infrastructure at P7.16 billion. AFP, with a report from Marlon Ramos