A powerful typhoon left 31 people reported dead, knocked down power and communications in entire provinces and wrought widespread destruction mostly in the central Philippines, officials said Saturday.
Typhoon Rai, known as Odette locally, moved on Friday night into the South China Sea after rampaging through southern and central island provinces, where more than 300,000 people in its path were evacuated to safety in advance in a move officials say may have saved many lives.
At its strongest, the storm packed sustained winds of 195 km/h and gusts of up to 270 km/h, one of the most powerful in recent years to hit the disaster-prone Southeast Asian archipelago, which lies between the Pacific Ocean and the South China Sea. The typhoon slammed into the country’s southeastern coast Thursday but the extent of casualties and destruction remained unclear two days after with entire provinces still without power and cellphone connections.
The government’s main disaster-response agency said at least 31 people were reported killed, many after being hit by falling trees, but the number may change as officials work to confirm local reports.
Officials on Dinagat Islands, one of the first provinces to be lashed by the typhoon’s ferocious winds, remained cut off Saturday due to downed power and communication lines. But its governor, Arlene Bag-ao, managed to post a statement on the province’s website to say that the island of about 180,000 “has been levelled to the ground.” She pleaded for food, water, temporary shelters, fuel, hygiene kits and medical supplies. She said only a few casualties have been reported in the capital so far because other towns remain isolated.
“We may have survived, but we cannot do the same in the coming days because of our limited capacities as an island province,” Bag-ao said, adding some of Dinagat’s hospitals could not open due to damage. “Most of our commercial and cargo vessels … are now unsuitable for sea voyages, effectively cutting us off from the rest of the country.”
Evacuation centres destroyed
Vice Gov. Nilo Demerey managed to reach a nearby province and told DZMM radio network that at least six residents died and that “almost 95 per cent of houses in Dinagat have no roof,” and even emergency shelters were destroyed.
“We’re currently doing repairs because even our evacuation centres were destroyed. There are no shelters, the churches, gymnasium, schools, public markets and even the capitol were all shattered,” Demerey said.
Pictures posted on Dinagat’s website show low-slung houses with roofs either blown off or damaged and surrounded by tin roof sheets and debris. The nearby island of Siargao, known as the surfing capital of the Philippines, also was pummelled by the typhoon.
In central Bohol province, which was directly hit by the typhoon, the coast guard said its personnel on board rubber boats rescued residents who were trapped on roofs and trees, as waters rose rapidly. It released footage showing coast guard staff helping people from the roof of a house nearly engulfed by brownish floodwater to a rubber boat. They also help a villager climb down from a tree above the floodwater while another man, also wearing an orange life vest, waits for his turn.
With government contingency funds used for the coronavirus pandemic, President Rodrigo Duterte said he would look for money to help the provinces. He planned to visit the devastated region this weekend.
About 20 storms and typhoons batter the Philippines each year.