At least three people were reported dead in the Philippines on Friday after a strong typhoon engulfed villages in floods that trapped residents on roofs, toppled trees and knocked out power in southern and central island provinces, where more than 300,000 villagers had fled to safety before the onslaught, officials said.
Typhoon Rai slightly weakened after blowing ashore Thursday on the country’s southeastern coast but remained destructive with sustained winds of 155 km/hour and gusts of up to 215 km/hour as it barrelled westward toward western Palawan province before exiting into the South China Sea, meteorologists said.
Officials were assessing the extent of the damage and casualties wrought by one of the strongest typhoons to hit the country in recent years but said efforts were hampered by widespread power outages, downed communications and roads clogged with fallen trees and debris. Witnesses described ferocious winds that ripped off roofs and forced down trees, while others experienced severe flooding that trapped residents on their roofs.
“I have never experienced such ferocity of the wind in my life and we were not even directly hit,” Mayor Jerry Trenas of central Iloilo city told The Associated Press by telephone, adding that at least one resident was killed when she was hit by a cluster of bamboo blown down by the storm.
Workers were clearing roads in the coastal city of nearly half a million people, which remained without power and struggled with erratic cellphone signals, he said.
Two other people died in southern Bukidnon province, where a falling tree killed one resident and injured another, and in southern Surigao city, where a man died after being hit by debris, officials said.
Officials were confirming at least two other typhoon-related deaths in central Guimaras province.
In central Bohol province, which was directly hit by the typhoon, Governor Arthur Yap said many residents remained trapped on their roofs by floodwater for a second day in the riverside town of Loboc, where his own house was swamped by water up to the second floor. Yap pleaded for volunteers from other regions to help save residents, saying he and other officials were struggling to find a way to deploy rescue boats to Loboc.
“Hundreds of families are trapped on the rooftops right now,” Yap told DZBB radio, adding that residents were exposed to rain and wind overnight. “We need first responders. What’s important now is to save lives.”
It was unclear what happened in other towns in the hard-hit province, which still had no electricity, Yap said.
Trapped in flood waters
Coast guard personnel rescued residents trapped in chest-deep waters on Thursday in a southern province, where torrential rains swamped villages in brownish water. In southern Cagayan de Oro city, footage showed two rescuers struggling to keep a month-old baby inside a laundry basin above the water and shield it from the wind and rain with an umbrella.
Presidential spokesman Karlo Nograles said more than 332,000 people were evacuated from high-risk villages as the typhoon approached from the Pacific Ocean, including nearly 15,000 who were brought to evacuation centres.
Crowding in those centres complicated efforts to keep people safely distanced after authorities detected the country’s first infections caused by the Omicron variant of the coronavirus. Vaccination campaigns were also halted in provinces lashed by the typhoon.
The coast guard grounded all vessels in dozens of ports affected by stormy weather, stranding more than 4,500 passengers and ferry and cargo ship workers. An international airport in central Cebu province was closed and several mostly domestic flights were cancelled while schools and workplaces were shut in the most vulnerable areas, Nograles said.
At least 62 cities and towns either lost power entirely or were experiencing disruptions in their electricity services.
About 20 storms and typhoons batter the Philippines each year. The archipelago is located in the seismically active Pacific “Ring of Fire” region, making it one of the world’s most disaster-prone countries.