MANILA, PHILIPPINES — Nearly 300 people have died as a result of Typhoon Bopha, and about as many were still missing on Wednesday, after the storm caused downpours and unleashed flooding and landslides in the central and southern Philippines, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council said.
Updated reports put the confirmed death toll at 274, with a further 339 injured.
Despite these fatalities, the U.N. Office for Disaster Reduction in Geneva said that thousands of lives had been saved, due to a new automated rain and flood prediction systems and to improved communication procedures with local communities.
“This time last year over 1,400 people died on Mindanao in a similar event but this time big improvements in the early warning systems have saved many lives,” said Jerry Velazquez, UNISDR’s Bangkok-based regional chief.
Some 167,000 people were evacuated to shelters, according to the U.N. agency.
Some of the highest death tolls were in the Compostela Valley and the neighboring Davao Oriental province.
“It is depressing that entire families may have been washed away,” Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas told ANC television after visiting the Compostela Valley.
Roxas said search and rescue efforts, conducted by a team of village officials, soldiers and police, were moving at a slow pace because of a lack of equipment. Equipments could not come quick because roads were covered with mud and fallen trees.
“The work is slow and difficult because they are stepping on mud, so it’s really slow going,” Roxas said.
New Bataan Mayor Lorenzo Balbin said in a radio interview that a slurry of rain, fallen trees, rocks and mud rushed down mountainsides, crushing buildings and engulfing people, who disappeared under the torrents.
Television footages showed school, church and roads buried in mud in New Bataan town. A gymnasium served as an evacuation centre and hospital for those recovered in the mud. A mother was shown in tears looking for her child.
Cateel and two other coastal towns in Davao Orietal remained cut off due to a collapsed bridge and fallen trees and debris blocking roads.
Benito Ramos, head of the country’s disaster council, said the weather was improving, but noted that people in typhoon-ravaged communities were still reeling from the massive destruction left by Bopha.
The disaster council said the government is assisting about 179,000 people inside and outside evacuation centers, with a growing number of people asking for aid.
“It’s already sunny out there, but the people are asking for food, clothing and shelter. They are all on the verge of tears and asking for help,” Ramos said.
The health department is sending body bags to the worst-hit areas while the recovered bodies, including those of children, are being processed for identification.