MANILA, Philippines (6th UPDATE) – The death toll from Typhoon “Pablo” (Bopha) that ravaged Mindanao rose to at least 274 Wednesday, December 5, with hundreds missing, as rescuers battled to reach areas cut off by floods and mudslides, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) said at 7 pm Wednesday.
In its latest report, the NDRRMC said the biggest number of deaths came from Region XI, particularly Davao Oriental and Compostela Valley. At least 253 died in these areas due to flash floods and landslides.
The NDRRMC said 114 people died in Davao Oriental. It said 139 died in Compostela Valley – 65 of these coming from the town of New Bataan.
The spokesperson of the Eastern Mindanao Command, Lt Col Lyndon Paniza, earlier gave a different estimate. In an interview with Agence France-Presse, he said 142 died and 241 others remained missing in New Bataan, Compostela Valley. He said Pablo killed 81 other people in Davao Oriental.
In various provinces, 21 other people died mostly after fallen trees hit them, according to the NDRRMC.
The youngest victim identified by the NDRRMC is 5-year-old Aerol Lintuan. A resident of Tarragona in Davao Oriental, he died after drowning.
The oldest among them is Cecilio Duama, a 77-year-old resident of Poblacion, Trento in Agusan del Sur, after a fallen tree hit him.
Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman and other officials described scenes of utter devastation with houses and other structures in some towns and villages ripped apart by the most powerful storm to hit the country this year.
“There are very few structures left standing in the town of Cateel,” she told AFP, referring to one badly hit coastal town. “We need to rush to these areas body bags, medicines, dry clothes and most importantly tents, because survivors are living out in the open after the typhoon blew away homes and rooftops.”
The situation was just as dire in New Bataan town, which the military said saw flash floods and mudslides.
“The bodies are left lying on the ground in the open in New Bataan and we don’t want to risk the spread of disease,” Soliman said.
The New Bataan dead included a soldier taking part in rescue operations, Interior Secretary Mar Roxas said. Six other army men from the same unit were missing and three were injured.
“It is quite sad and tragic. They were actually there to be ready to help our countrymen who may be in trouble,” Roxas said.
Local disaster teams said that at least 300 New Bataan residents remained missing as of Wednesday. At least 144 were injured. In the town of Boston, Davao Oriental, at least 29 were confirmed dead, local officials added.
Rescuers struggled to clear roads of debris in a bid to reach areas ravaged by Pablo. Six barangays in New Bataan were severely affected by flash floods, forcing the evacuation of 500 families.
The typhoon had weakened overnight as it prepared to blow off into the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea), forecasters said.
It was, however, still expected to dump rain as it passed over Palawan on Wednesday morning, potentially bringing more destruction, officials said.
Major General Ariel Bernardo, commanding general of the 10th Infantry Division which covers southern Mindanao, said army camps had been heavily damaged by the storm, slowing down rescue operations.
He said the first military responders reached the mountain town of New Bataan, Compostela Valley, late Tuesday, December 4, over 15 hours after Pablo made landfall on the eastern coast of the island.
“We have two companies setting off this morning to help in the search and rescue operations, but our military is also a victim of the storm,” he said over radio station dzBB in Manila.
“In one of our headquarters, no bunkers were left standing and all our communication equipment had been destroyed.”
He said an army patrol base and a rescue truck in New Bataan had been washed away by flash floods.
Forty-four people were killed when rainwater gushed down from nearby slopes, creating a deadly cocktail of mud, logs and rocks that crushed everything in its path.
The small mountain pass leading to the town had been littered with fallen trees and rocks, virtually cutting it off from road traffic.
“We are hoping to fly our helicopters to conduct reconnaissance and search and recovery,” Bernardo added.
Eight others were confirmed killed elsewhere, although he said the toll could still rise with reports from the field indicating more than 50 others had died in the nearby province of Davao Oriental.
Pablo made landfall on the eastern coast of Mindanao early Tuesday, bringing driving rain and strong winds, toppling trees and power lines, causing localized flooding and forcing more than 56,000 to seek refuge in emergency shelters.
It was the 16th storm this year to ravage the Philippines, which gets about 20 cyclones annually.
Typhoon Pablo comes after tropical storm Sendong (Washi) hit Mindanao in December last year, killing more than 1,200 and leaving hundreds of thousands homeless. – Rappler.com, with reports from Agence France-Presse