Dis­as­ter plan­ning helps limit death toll in Philip­pines

Over 105,000 peo­ple were evac­u­ated to tem­po­rary shel­ters be­fore typhoon hit

The Straits Times - - TOPOF THE NEWS -

CLAVE­RIA (Philip­pines) Typhoon Mangkhut, which me­te­o­rol­o­gists called the most pow­er­ful storm in the world this year, swept through the north­ern end of the Philip­pine is­land of Lu­zon, leav­ing scores of peo­ple dead and wreak­ing havoc.

Shat­tered schools, bare walls of homes stripped of their roofs and vast corn­fields drowned in muddy flood­wa­ters were left in the typhoon’s wake. Some roads were cut off by l and­slides and many re­mained sub­merged.

Among the ca­su­al­ties was a fam­ily of four who were killed when a land­slide struck their home in the Cordillera Moun­tains, south of the town of Clave­ria, ac­cord­ing to Mr Fran­cis To­lentino, an ad­viser to Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte.

Head of the mil­i­tary’s North­ern Lu­zon Com­mand Em­manuel Sala­mat said that at least 19 more were killed in land­slides in one part of Benguet prov­ince.

Ac­cord­ing to Mr To­lentino, the 19 who died were part of a big­ger group of 43 peo­ple, likely min­ers, and those still alive were feared to be trapped in an old min­ing bunkhouse that had col­lapsed un­der rub­ble.

Search-and-res­cue mis­sions were on­go­ing, and a lo­cal mayor in Benguet, Mr Vic­to­rio Palang­dan, said he feared the num­ber killed there could be more than 100. Sep­a­rately, the coast guard said it had re­cov­ered the bod­ies of three peo­ple.

Yet, amid the suf­fer­ing, there was also re­lief that the sit­u­a­tion was not much worse. The ini­tial ca­su­alty toll was far lower than of­fi­cials had feared in the days be­fore the storm made land­fall early last Satur­day.

“It was not so se­vere as we ex­pected it to be be­cause ear­lier it was noted it would be strong,” said Mr Duterte, fol­low­ing an aerial sur­vey of some af­fected ar­eas.

But it could be days or weeks be­fore the storm’s true hu­man toll is known. It will also take time to as­sess how much dam­age was done to the coun­try’s prime agri­cul­tural re­gion and to the econ­omy.

Dam­age to farms could be ex­ten­sive – and costly for the na­tion. The re­gion is the coun­try’s largest food pro­ducer, and the de­struc­tion of crops could lead to food short­ages, higher costs and in­fla­tion. Ex­perts have said the eco­nomic losses could reach 6.6 per cent of the Philip­pines’ gross do­mes­tic prod­uct, or more than US$20 bil­lion (S$27.5 bil­lion).

The au­thor­i­ties said they would of­fer aid to farm­ers while plan­ning to air­lift veg­eta­bles, fruit, poul­try and fish from the south­ern is­land of Min­danao to aug­ment the food sup­ply in the north.

“We’re al­ready poor and then this hap­pened to us. We have lost hope,” said 40-year-old Mary Anne Baril, whose corn and rice crops were spoilt. “We have no other means to sur­vive,” she said tear­fully.

From the road above Mr Robert Tu­ma­neng’s fish ponds, the flood­wa­ters ex­tended as far as the eye could see, with the tips of palm trees and the thatched roofs of wooden shacks barely vis­i­ble.

“It was shak­ing like an earth­quake,” said Mr Tu­ma­neng, 55, a fish farmer in Clave­ria. “This storm was dif­fer­ent be­cause the wind was low to the ground like it was crawl­ing and de­stroy­ing ev­ery­thing.”

The num­ber of con­firmed fa­tal­i­ties is al­most cer­tain to rise as peo­ple be­gin as­sess­ing dam­age from the typhoon. But if the numbers are lim­ited, it will be, at least in part, a tes­ta­ment to the pre­pared­ness of the au­thor­i­ties fol­low­ing dis­as­trous storms in re­cent years.

De­ter­mined not to see a re­peat of Typhoon Haiyan, which killed more than 6,000 peo­ple in the cen­tral Philip­pines in 2013, of­fi­cials had evac­u­ated more than 105,000 peo­ple to tem­po­rary shel­ters be­fore Typhoon Mangkhut hit.

Com­mu­ni­ca­tions in the dis­as­ter zone were ham­pered by power and mo­bile ser­vice black­outs, and ac­cess was dif­fi­cult in many places be­cause of flood­ing and road clo­sures, mak­ing it hard to eval­u­ate the storm’s full ef­fect.

The typhoon, with wind speeds hit­ting 274kmh be­fore reach­ing land, could have caused far more dam­age if it had hit Lu­zon far­ther south and

PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Filipinos wait for aid to be dis­trib­uted in Tugue­garao, Ca­gayan prov­ince. Com­mu­ni­ca­tions in the dis­as­ter zone were ham­pered by power and mo­bile ser­vice black­outs, and ac­cess was dif­fi­cult in many places.

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