CAGAYAN DE ORO, Philippines – Thousands fled to evacuation centers across Mindanao as Typhoon Odette (Rai) unleashed its fury and made landfalls in the Caraga region on Thursday, December 16.
Seen as a super typhoon, Odette brought strong winds and heavy rain throughout the country’s second-largest island.
The extent of the damage and evacuations were unclear but in Cagayan de Oro alone, some 9,270 people sought shelter in evacuation centers set up by the local government as of 5:30 pm as the Cagayan River swelled and its water level reached a critical point.
Mayor Oscar Moreno ordered forced evacuations due to the threat of more floods and rising floodwater around 3 pm, following hours of intermittent and, at times, heavy rain.
The City Disaster Risk Reduction and Management (CDRRM) Council said it had to be done because the “flooding is serious.”
Social workers said there were 1,854 families in the city’s evacuation centers late in the afternoon.
CDRRM office chief Nick Jabagat said many roads were already flooded in the morning and became impassable before midday.
Jabagat said a landslide in Macapaya, Barangay Indahag disrupted vehicular traffic between Cagayan de Oro and Libona town in Bukidnon.
By 10 am, he said, the floodwater near a popular mall in downtown Cagayan de Oro was already waist-deep. Less than a kilometer away, floodwater submerged a section of the highway near another mall.
It also rained hard in the Bukidnon towns of Talakag, Baungon, Malitbog, Libona, Manolo Fortich, Sumilao, Impasug-ong, and Cabanglasan, and Malaybalay City, and the power supply was disrupted in many areas.
In Caraga’s Dinagat Island where Odette made its second landfall after Siargao Island, at least 3,000 people fled to 33 evacuation centers in the morning alone as howling winds buffeted houses on the island province, according to provincial disaster risk reduction management officer Jeff Crisostomo.
“We are concerned that it would grow worse later in the day,” Crisostomo said on Thursday morning, before the landfall.
There is no available information about Dinagat and Siargao islands as of this posting.
Aside from Siargao, Odette also adversely affected the Bucas Grande Islands in Surigao del Norte.
There were also reports of widespread flooding in many other parts of Caraga. In Lianga and San Agustin towns, Surigao del Sur, at least 200 families or about 1,000 people fled to safer grounds due to a storm surge, according to Roger Enriquez of the non-governmental organization Balay Mindanaw.
Army Captain Teody Agustin, the spokesperson of the Army’s 901st Infantry Brigade, said a section of the highway in between Butuan City and San Francisco town in Agusan del Sur was impassable following a landslide.
Over 2,500 people also evacuated in the villages of Washington, Lipata, Cagniog, Mabua, Sabang, Togbongon, Luna, and Cantiasay in Surigao City.
The Coast Guard stopped all vessels from venturing out to sea due to big waves and strong winds.
In General Santos City in the Soccsksargen region, heavy rain made the Klaaja River swell, aggravated by a dam-like massive soil formation that impounded a huge volume of water.
The formation, caused by a November 9 landslide in Barangay Conel, threatened to aggravate the flooding problem in low-lying areas of General Santos, according to the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) supervision geologist Ariel Austin Acosta.
The threat prompted officials to call for preemptive evacuations.
Work was suspended throughout Caraga region, Cagayan de Oro, and Bukidnon in Northern Mindanao, up to Dipolog City and Zamboanga Sibugay in the Zamboanga Peninsula.
Dipolog City Mayor Darel Uy suspended work but maintained a skeleton force in the local government until Friday, December 17 as a precautionary measure and “to safeguard our employees.”
Odette also affected Zamboanga del Norte, including Dapitan City, and the towns of Rizal, Sibutad, Polanco, Piñan, La Libertad, and Mutia.
In Zamboanga Sibugay, local governments kept an eye on the Sanito, Bacalan, Kabasalan, and Sibuguey rivers, said Lloyd Pranza, Provincial Disaster Reduction, and Risk Management Office chief.
It was gloomy and there was a downpour in Zamboanga City on Thursday afternoon, about the same time Odette made its landfall in Caraga.
“But everything was normal except for rains in the city proper,” said City Disaster Reduction and Risk Management officer Dr. Elmeir Jade Apolinario. –Antonio Manaytay, Frencie Carreon, Grace Cantal-Albasin, Rommel Rebollido/Rappler