MANILA: The death toll from a tropical storm in the southern Philippines climbed swiftly to 133 yesterday, as rescuers pulled dozens of bodies from a swollen river, police said. Tropical Storm Tembin has lashed the nation’s second-largest island of Mindanao since Friday, triggering flash floods and mudslides. The Philippines is pummelled by 20 major storms each year on average, many of them deadly. But Mindanao, home to 20 million people, is rarely hit.
Police, soldiers and volunteers used shovels to dig through mud and debris as they searched for bodies in the village of Dalama yesterday. “The river rose and most of the homes were swept away. The village is no longer there,” police officer Gerry Parami told AFP by telephone from nearby Tubod town. Rescuers meanwhile retrieved 36 bodies from the Salog River in nearby Sapad town yesterday.
The bodies in Sapad were swept downriver from a flooded town upstream called Salvador, Rando Salvacion, the Sapad town police chief, told AFP. Authorities in Salvador said they had retrieved 17 other bodies upstream. Tubod, Salvador and Sapad are in Lanao del Norte, which is one of the provinces hardest hit by Tembin. “The people received ample warnings. But as we are rarely hit by typhoons, people living near rivers did not take them seriously,” Salvador police chief Wilson Mislores told AFP.
The death toll for Mindanao’s Zamboanga peninsula also rose to 28, and police said 81 people were missing after mud and rocks swept down coastal communities in Sibuco and other fishing towns. Landslides had blocked rescue and relief convoys to the impoverished region, officials said yesterday. Tembin struck less than a week after Tropical Storm Kai-Tak left 54 dead and 24 missing in the central Philippines, straining the disaster-prone nation’s resources.
“It is unfortunate that another tropical cyclone … made its presence felt so near Christmas,” Harry Roque, President Rodrigo Duterte’s spokesman, said in a statement. Roque vowed continued government aid to the affected communities, but Romina Marasigan, spokeswoman for the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, described the situation as “challenging”.
The deadliest typhoon to hit the country was Haiyan, which killed thousands and destroyed entire towns in heavily populated areas of the central Philippines in Nov 2013. The state weather service said Tembin is expected to hit Balabac, a fishing island of 40,000 people in the western Philippines late Saturday with gusts of 115 km an hour. – AFP