The Philippines strongest typhoon of the year makes landfall
More than 320 people have died in the southern Philippines and hundreds remain missing after Typhoon Bopha swept across the south of the country.
“We have 325 dead and this is expected to rise because many more are missing,” civil defence chief Benito Ramos told a news conference on Thursday, two days after the storm triggered floods and mudslides.
A government spokeswoman, Fe Maestre, had earlier told the Associated Press news agency that at least 151 people died in the worst-hit province of Compostela Valley.
That included 66 villagers and soldiers who died in a flash flood that swamped two emergency storm shelters and a military camp as Bopha devastated New Bataan town.
Army Major-General Ariel Bernardo said 51 people died and 98 others were missing in nearby Davao Oriental province, where Bopha first hit, mostly due to flooding and toppled trees.
Benito Ramos, head of the National Disaster Management Agency, told Al Jazeera the storm had devastated eight provinces on the islands of Mindanao.
He said some of the affected provinces had no power and that communication lines had all been brought down.
“Some of the roads and bridges are destroyed,” said Ramos.
The search for those missing is continuing, he added.
Bopha swept across Mindanao, felling trees and destroying homes with 210km per hour gusts on Tuesday before weakening overnight as it headed towards the South China Sea.
Corazon Soliman, social welfare secretary, 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 the AFP news agency, referring to a coastal town where 16 residents were killed.
“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.”
Twelve other people were killed in other parts of Mindanao, while three residents died in the central group of islands known as the Visayas, regional branches of the civil defence office told AFP.
The military was deploying helicopters and heavy equipment to New Bataan, where rainwater had gushed down from nearby slopes, creating a deadly swirl of rainwater, logs and rocks that crushed everything in its path.
The narrow mountain pass leading to the town was blocked with logs and boulders, said Major General Ariel Bernardo, commander of an army division in the area.
Cateel and two other towns on Mindanao’s east coast remain isolated due to a collapsed bridge and fallen trees and debris blocking roads, according to Corazon Malanyaon, governor of Davao Oriental.
She said rescuers were using everything from heavy equipment to their bare hands and chainsaws to clear the roads.
“It’s like we’re running an obstacle course,” Malanyaon said on local radio.
“About 95 per cent of the town centre’s structures including hospitals, private homes, private buildings had their roofs blown away.”
Bopha had forced 87,000 people to seek refuge in emergency shelters, according to an updated civil defence office tally.
It was the sixteenth storm this year to ravage the Philippines, which is hit by about 20 cyclones annually.
In December last year, Mindanao was struck by Washi, a tropical storm which killed more than 1,200 people and left hundreds of thousands homeless.