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N. Samar cries for aid in ‘worst’ disaster

TACLOBAN CITY—The local government of Northern Samar on Monday appealed to national agencies for emergency assistance as the province grappled with the worst flooding it had experienced in 30 years.

“We are appealing to our (national) agencies for immediate assistance. We have not seen this kind of disaster in 30 years. This is the worst ever,” Vice Gov. Gary Lavin said.

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Eight of the 13 killed in Eastern Visayas in flash floods and landslides caused by heavy rains brought by Tropical Depression “Usman” were from Northern Samar, one of the poorest provinces of the Philippines.

Town deeply flooded

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Five of the victims were from Lope de Vega town, which remained isolated on Monday due to floods.

Lavin said Lope de Vega was in most need of help. Twenty of the town’s 22 villages were under water, he added.

He said the water level had reached the second floor of houses in the town, which is 28 kilometers from the Northern Samar capital of Catarman.

“Gov. (Jose) Ong has to use his chopper so we can provide relief to the people of Lope de Vega,” Lavin said.

Roads linking Lope de Vega to Calbayog City in Samar province remained impassable due to flooding.

Lavin said the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council had yet to receive reports of damage caused by Usman because of the floods.

Once the council had received the reports, the provincial board would declare a state of calamity in the province, he said.

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Rising death toll

The death toll from Usman, which struck central Philippines just before Christmas, rose to 71 on Monday, with the number of fatalities expected to climb even higher, civil defense officials said.

Fifty-seven people were reported dead in the Bicol region, while 13 were reported killed in Eastern Visayas and one in Laguna province, mostly due to landslides and drownings, the Office of Civil Defense in Bicol said.

The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council in Manila, however, could not confirm the 71 deaths, saying it was still verifying the reports.

Usman hit land in Borongan City, Eastern Samar province, on Saturday then weakened into low pressure as it crossed central Philippines.

While it did not have powerful winds, it brought heavy rains that caused floods and loosened the soil, triggering landslides in some areas.

Many people failed to take necessary precautions because Usman was not strong enough to be rated as a typhoon under the government’s storm alert system, said Claudio Yucot, Bicol civil defense director.

Climate change

Yucot said people did not expect heavy rains after the weather bureau downgraded Usman to low pressure accompanied by the tail-end of a cold front.

“We have disaster protocol when it comes to typhoons [and] storms, but [there’s] none for [low pressure] and [tail-end of a cold front],” he said.

“Zero casualty is our constant goal, but there are situations that are beyond our control. This is the unusually heavy rains caused by climate change,” Yucot said.

Although Usman has since moved westward away from the Philippines, many affected areas were still experiencing seasonal rains, hampering rescue and recovery efforts, he added.

In Laguna, civil defense officials said 60 families, or 238 people, fled their homes when floods hit the towns of Los Baños, Bay, Calauan, Liliw and the cities of Calamba and San Pablo.

A man identified as Avelino Balanay, 84, was reported drowned at Barangay J. Rizal in Santa Maria town.

Too much rain

Cedric Daep, chief of the provincial safety office in Albay, said the areas in Tiwi town that were hit by landslides had no history of landslides and were not classified by the Mines and Geosciences Bureau as landslide-prone.

Only one village, Sugod, is identified as flood-prone, Daep said.

At least 11 people died in the landslides, another 11 were injured, and eight remained missing.

Daep blamed the landslides that hit the villages of Maynonong, Bariis and Sugod on 437.1 millimeters of rain that poured on Saturday and Sunday—84 percent of the average rainfall of 520.2 mm for December—worsening the effects on the soil of rains on Wednesday and Thursday. —WITH REPORTS FROM JEANNETTE I. ANDRADE, MAR S. ARGUELLES, REY ANTHONY OSTRIA, MARICAR CINCO AND AFP

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