Typhoon Bopha claims 97 lives

2012-12-05 08:11

Manila -The death toll from a powerful typhoon that ravaged the southern Philippines rose to 97 on Wednesday, officials said, as rescuers battled to reach areas cut off in flash floods and mudslides.

Typhoon Bopha barrelled across the island of Mindanao, toppling trees and blowing away homes with 210km/h gusts on Tuesday before weakening overnight as it headed towards the South China Sea.

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 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," she said.

Soliman said the situation was as dire in the southern mountain town of New Bataan, where the military said at least 44 people were killed in flash floods and mud avalanches.

Bodies left in the open

"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," said Soliman.

Two provinces on Mindanao's east coast accounted for 82 of the deaths, according to Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, who like Soliman flew to the south to help run the rescue and relief operations.

Among the fatalities was a soldier who was part of a troop deployment sent to New Bataan in anticipation of the storm.

"It is quite sad and tragic. They were actually there to be ready to help our countrymen who may be in trouble," Roxas said.

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 scrambling helicopters and heavy equipment on Wednesday 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.

No power or communications

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.

Parts of Mindanao remained without power and communications, with food and clean water in limited supply after Bopha carved a path of destruction.

Cateel and two other towns on Mindanao's east coast remain isolated due to a collapsed bridge and fallen trees and debris blocking roads, said Corazon Malanyaon, governor of Davao Oriental province where Bopha made landfall.

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% of the town centre's structures including hospitals, private homes, private buildings had their roofs blown away," she said.

87 000 seek refuge

Bernardo said the military was dispatching about 200 soldiers to help them, but that it was also "a victim of the storm" after an army patrol base and a rescue truck were washed away in New Bataan.

"In one of our headquarters, no bunkers were left standing and all our communication equipment has been destroyed,' he said.

Bopha made landfall on the eastern coast of Mindanao early on Tuesday, bringing driving rain and strong winds that 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 with about 20 cyclones annually.