MANILA: As many as 109 people were killed in the strongest typhoon that hit the Philippines on Thursday as the efforts to deliver water and food to the devastated islands ramped up.
More than 300,000 people fled their homes and the beachfront resorts as Typhoon Rai ravaged the southern and central regions of the archipelago. The storm knocked out communications and electricity in many areas, ripped off roofs, damaged hospitals, toppled concrete power poles and flooded villages.
Arthur Yap, governor of the popular tourist destination Bohol, said that mayors on the devastated island had so far reported 73 deaths in their towns. Ten people also died on the Dinagat Islands, said the provincial information officer, Jeffrey Crisostomo.
That took the overall number of reported deaths to 109, according to the latest official figures, making it one of the deadliest storms to hit the country in recent years. But the toll was likely to rise as the disaster agencies assessed the full extent of the storm’s aftermath across the vast archipelago.
Rai smashed into the country on Thursday as a super typhoon packing winds of 195 kilometres (120 miles) per hour.
Thousands of military, police, coast guard and fire personnel are being deployed to assist in search and rescue efforts in the worst-affected areas. The coast guard and naval vessels, carrying food, water and medical supplies, are being dispatched, while heavy machinery — like backhoes and front-end loaders — is being sent to help clear the roads blocked by the fallen power poles and trees.
“It’s going to be a long, tough road for the people to rebuild and get their lives back on track,” said Alberto Bocanegra, head of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in the Philippines.
The organisation appealed for 20 million Swiss francs ($21.6 million) to fund urgent relief and recovery efforts.
Pope Francis expressed hopes for “concrete aid” to be offered to the Catholic-majority country.
An aerial survey of damage to the parts of Bohol showed “our people have suffered greatly”, Yap said.
There has also been widespread destruction on Siargao, Dinagat and Mindanao islands, which bore the brunt of Rai, when it slammed into the Philippines.
Verified videos showed severe damage in the Siargao town of General Luna, where many surfers and holidaymakers had flocked ahead of the Christmas, with buildings missing roofs, wooden structures crushed to pieces, trees stripped of leaves, and piles of debris on the ground. The
tourists were being evacuated from the island on Sunday by plane and boat.
Dinagat Governor Arlene Bag-ao has said the damage to the island’s landscape was “reminiscent if not worse” than that caused by Super Typhoon Haiyan in 2013.
Haiyan, called Yolanda in the Philippines, was the deadliest cyclone on record in the country, leaving more than 7,300 people dead or missing.
“I saw how Typhoon Odette tore the provincial capitol apart, piece by piece,” Dinagat PIO Crisostomo said, adding that: “Big tables as heavy as a man went flying during the onslaught of the storm.”
In Surigao city, on the northern tip of Mindanao, shattered glass from the smashed windows, roofing, power lines and other debris were scattered in the streets.
Tricycle driver Rey Jamile, 57, braved flooded streets and “flying” sheets of corrugated iron roofing to get his family to safety at a school evacuation centre. “The wind was very strong,” he said, adding that now that the storm was over, he was struggling to find water and food.
President Rodrigo Duterte visited some of the hardest-hit areas on Saturday and pledged to release two billion pesos ($40 million) to assist recovery efforts.
Rai hit the Philippines late in the typhoon season — most cyclones typically develop between July and October.
Scientists have long warned that typhoons are becoming more powerful and strengthening more rapidly as the world becomes warmer because of human-driven climate change.
The Philippines — ranked among the globe’s most vulnerable nations to the impacts of climate change — is hit by an average of 20 storms and typhoons every year, which typically wipe out harvests, homes and infrastructure in the already-impoverished areas.