At least 108 children, women dead, missing in W. Mindanao flashfloods
SALVADOR, Lanao del Norte—Ricardo Abalo, principal of the Salvador Central School, could barely contain his emotion as one by one, the bodies of eight school children were plucked out of the thick mud that descended into several villages on Friday.
“It’s very painful to see the dead bodies of the children, whom we also considered to be our own,” the muddied Abalo told the Inquirer.
Salvador has suffered 41 confirmed deaths but about half of the figure had not yet been recovered.
Abalo had joined the search and retrieval team that combed the thick mud in the hope of finding survivors in the villages of Pansor, Buntong, and Madaya.
Among those missing was the 17-year-old child of one of the teachers, Paz Tabera Concepcion.
“We had been together for a while and then all of a sudden, because of the storm, they’re gone,” he said.
Among those retrieved so far were the bodies of two kindergarten pupils. Others were those of grades 3, 4 and 5 pupils while some were those of missing high school students.
The number of missing school children in the town was unknown but authorities believed there could be more.
“We’re having difficulty in the search and retrieval operation because of the mixture of water and soil, which we have to pass through in going inside the area of the nipa trees,” Abalo said.
He said the town government had hired habal-habal drivers to help in the operation and paid them P500 each.
“We will try our best to comb this part because we believe there are more dead bodies buried here,” Abalo said.
Abalo said while destructive activities such as logging has ceased in the town, those in nearby areas in Lanao del Sur continued.
Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez, commander of the Western Mindanao Command, said they had listed 103 dead people.
Westmincom has jurisdiction over the Zamboanga provinces and parts of Lanao del Norte and Lanao del Sur.
“It is with grief that we report that 103 persons died mostly due to flash floods, with 179 still missing and 44 injured,” Galvez said, citing figures gathered as of 8 p.m. of December 23.
He said 25 towns were affected in his area of responsibility.
“The number of persons affected and evacuated reached 36,899 with 4, 344 affected families,” Galvez added.
Over 800 houses were also damaged, he said.
In Munai, Lanao del Norte, Mayor Casan Maquiling said 11 bodies had been recovered, including that of an 8-month-old child.
Thirty-five others remained missing, including town councilor Jamal Batalo, according to Maquiling.
Maquiling said most of those missing were children and women.
He said the flash flood rushing down Mt. Gurayan was so intense that, according to accounts, it lasted for about two hours.
Nine of Munai’s villages, including Lininding, Bacayawan, Pindolonan, Matampay and Old Poblacion, were severely affected by the flood, Maquiling said.
At least 1,456 families had been isolated after the Dalama bridge was damaged. Reaching them was difficult because of the situation, he added.
Pindolonan itself, he said, was cut into two areas.
To reach the isolated villagers, relief workers had to hike and pass on to another group the goods to be delivered to them.
Maquiling said nine school buildings were also destroyed in the floods.
In Tubod, Lanao del Norte, the number of retrieved bodies remained at eight but the number could rise any time soon as none of the missing 20 persons had been located.
In Lanao del Sur, 26 people had been confirmed killed, according to Zia Adiong, spokesperson of the provincial crisis management committee.
Piagapo town had the highest number of dead people at 10, followed by Madalum with eight, Tugaya with four, Balindong with 2, and one each for Tamparan and Bacolod Kalawi.
Gov. Mujiv Hataman of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) said relief and rescue teams from the Humanitarian Emergency Action Response Team (HEART) and the Regional Disaster Risk-Reduction Management Council (RDRRMC) had been mobilized to search for some 20 persons.
Hataman said clearing operations for clogged roads were also ongoing to speed up access to flood-affected areas in Lanao del Sur and other ARMM areas.
At least 21,208 families were displaced in the floods and slides that affected the ARMM, according to Hataman.
“We need to clear the roads so we can bring in more goods for the displaced and affected families,” he said.
In Gutalac, Zamboanga del Norte, Mayor Onesimo Coma Jr., told the Inquirer that this would be the saddest Christmas for the town.
“During Yolanda, we were spared even when the water rose,” Coma said.
Gutalac, a second class town with 33 barangays dominated by the Subanen, lost 24 people, 15 of them children aged three months to 14 years old.
“(Some of the) bodies will be buried today and tomorrow, after they are inspected and documented by our health officers. Some bodies especially the Visayans will be brought to a nearby village hall or chapel, while the Subanen, if the rain is over, will bury the bodies in their ancestral land or in the places where they died,” Coma said.
Twenty-eight people remained missing in the town, according to Coma.
He said more than 5,000 people, who had been displaced by the flood of water, mud and rocks, needed help.
“We need kettle, rice, blanket, clothing, underwear, anything that will make our people warm for this Christmas and until we can return safely to our respective places,” Coma added.
He said they were not remiss in reminding residents about the need to evacuate when Vita was still shaping.
“There was no Vinta yet but we already experienced rain showers. Per experience, that kind of drizzle for a long period would soften the earth and make it vulnerable to landslide. We went to every barangay appealing to them to go to safer grounds. Those who were victimized were basically families, who preferred to stay in their homes. They claimed there were past more powerful typhoons, but they were not affected,” he added.
In the entire Zamboanga del Norte, 72 people had been recovered dead, according to Praxides Rubia, the provincial information officer.
The death toll included those of Gutalac, Sibuco, and Salug towns.
“We have numbers of missing (persons) but we cannot provide fixed data since there are many barangays that have not yet been penetrated since (Saturday) because all the roads and routes going to those places are impassable. We have so many landslide (incidents) here,” Rubia added.
She said the number of dead people could still rise when data from hardest hit areas in Sibuco and Gutalac comes in.
“We all pray that they are still alive,” Rubia said, adding that the hardest hit areas were on the coasts and nested at the foot of mountains or hills.
Senior Supt. Raul Tacaca, Zamboanga del Norte police director, said province-wide, 3,725 families had been displaced based on data gathered as of 5 p.m. Saturday,
He said search and rescue operations were also continuing.
“During these trying times, your soldiers will be on full alert, ready to move and serve wherever, whenever in our Joint Area of Operations. Despite these numerous actions we are taking right now, we also ensure that the threat groups will not be able to take advantage of situations and create further unwanted havoc to communities,” Galvez said. Divina Suson, Charlie Señase and Julie Alipala INQ
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