42 killed, 24 missing in Philippines flash floods

Manila (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) - Blown in the wind. Deaths in flash floods.

That¿s what happened in areas in Mindanao in south Philippines raked by powerful Typhoon ¿Pablo¿ (international name: Bopha) before dawn yesterday.

Pablo moved swiftly on its predicted path, sending roofs flying off houses, hectares of coconut trees tumbling, rivers bursting their banks, cancelling flights and ferry services, church bells ringing and sirens wailing in a large part of Mindanao where the Category 5 storm passed.

Inquirer bureaus in Mindanao and Cebu, in reports attributed to local officials, and civil defence authorities put the initial death toll¿mainly in flash floods¿at 42 and another 24 unaccounted for. Most of the deaths were in New Bataan in Compostela Valley.

In Manila, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) said two Army platoons with possibly 66 soldiers were unaccounted for.

Benito Ramos, NDRRMC executive director, said each platoon had 33 soldiers. He said the command post of Charlie Company of the 66th Infantry Battalion at Barangay (village) Andap in New Bataan was reportedly washed away in a flash flood.

Contact with the platoons had not been established as of 4pm.

But Gen. Ariel Bernardo, commander of the 10th Infantry Division, told the Inquirer by phone that reports reaching him indicated only six soldiers were missing from the two platoons.

¿Totally unexpected¿

Governor Arturo Uy of Compostela Valley confirmed in a GMA News TV interview that 33 people drowned in New Bataan town. Uy said the bodies were retrieved at 5:30pm.

¿It was totally unexpected,¿ Uy said. Flooding reached the barangay hall and the health centre that were supposed to be on high ground.

¿We never expected the waters to be that strong, the rescue team was only able to enter the area at 4:30pm,¿ he said.

In the neighbouring Compostela town, Provincial Board Member Neri Barte reported a woman and her two children were killed in a landslide.

Davao Oriental Gov. Corazon Malanyaon said four people were confirmed dead while 24 others were feared to have also been killed when Pablo hit the province at dawn yesterday.

¿Of the 29, four have been confirmed. The rest, we still have to verify with reports coming from the ground,¿ Malanyaon told the Inquirer by phone.

The reports, the governor said, came from social welfare offices and police officers in Boston, Manay, Baganga, Caraga and Cateel towns.

¿This is very depressing,¿ Malanyaon said.

She added that it was impossible for them to check on the reports yesterday because the roads were impassable due to landslides and fallen trees along the road leading to the towns.

1 soldier killed

The NDRRMC report of fatalities included Erlinda Balante of Manay town, Davao Oriental, Jigger Gomonit, 30, of Panao, Misamis Oriental, Elberto Daniel, 23, of Lazi, Siquijor, and 1st Sergeant Olivarez of the 10th Infantry Division.

Ramos said Olivarez was washed away along with his company commander, identified as Lieutenant Deazeta, after a flash flood hit their temporary command post at Barangay Andap at around 3pm Deazeta was rescued but remains unconscious, Ramos said.

The soldiers¿ first names were not immediately available.

The military command also reported power outages and communication interruptions because of fallen electrical outposts and power lines.

Packing peak slightly weakened centre winds of 160 kilometres per hour, gusting up to 195 kph, the typhoon that was internationally called ¿Bopha¿ struck before dawn Tuesday at Baganga town in Davao Oriental, according to the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa).

With a diametre of 500 km, the typhoon swept across the midsection of Mindanao, slightly below the path Tropical Storm ¿Sendong¿ took a year ago, before veering west northwest toward the southern Visayas region. Sendong killed over 1,500 people.

As of 4pm, the eye of the typhoon was located 60 km southeast of Dumaguete City, Pagasa said. It was forecast to continue moving west northwest at 24 kph, maintaining its peak strength.

Port authorities in Dumaguete said a ferry with six crewmen was missing.

The Philippine National Red Cross (PNRC) said initial reports showed that 8,400 families were evacuated to safer ground in Davao Oriental, Iligan, Cagayan de Oro, Surigao del Norte, Surigao del Sur and Leyte.

More than 3,430 passengers of 93 interisland vessels were stranded in 16 major sea ports, including those in Manila and parts of the Visayas and Mindanao, the Philippine Coast Guard said.

In Davao Oriental, where Pablo made landfall, residents said the wind was so strong it sent coconut trees falling like logs cut by chainsaws.

Flordeliz Bantolinao, a teacher in Baganga, Davao Oriental, said a neighbour died in a house crushed by a coconut tree. Bantolinao said, by her estimate, 90 per cent of houses in her village, Baculin, had either been destroyed or damaged.

Coconut trees felled

Bantolinao said in a phone interview that in a 10-hectare plantation in her village, all the coconut trees were felled.

She said other villages in Baganga, especially in the town centre, could have suffered the same fate, if not worse, but she had no way of knowing for sure because the roads leading to the villages and the centre of town had been blocked by fallen trees.

¿Everything is gone¿houses, crops,¿ Bantolinao said. She said the typhoon victims urgently needed food.

Baganga, which faces the Pacific Ocean, is some 100 kilometres from the capital city of Mati.

Emmalyn Oliveros of the Davao Oriental civil defence office, said the extent of damage in the province could not be known immediately because of downed communications.

Oliveros confirmed the death of a 5-year-old child, Errol Lintuan, of Barangay Tubaon in Tarragona town. Lintuan was killed when a tree fell on his family¿s house around 5am yesterday.

In Cebu City, civil defence authorities said a 23-year-old man died after a coconut tree struck him as he was driving his motorcycle in Lazi town, Siquijor.

By 2pm yesterday, officials in Davao Oriental had moved 856 families to evacuation centres.

In Tarragona, roofs were torn off houses, according to Vivencio Anislag of the municipal office.

25,000 flee in CDO

In Cagayan de Oro, the shrill sound of sirens warned residents of impending danger when the Cagayan River started to overflow its banks past 2pm. The sound of sirens combined with the pealing of church bells when water in the river rose 10 feet beyond its normal level.

While most residents had moved to evacuation centres by the time Pablo struck, many lingered by the riverbanks to watch the river¿s water rise, prompting officials to send in policemen to forcibly move the kibitzers out of harm¿s way.

The city information office said at least 25,000 people had been moved to 51 evacuation centres.

Willing to evacuate

Unlike when Sendong struck, residents of some places in the path of Pablo knew of the dangers that faced them, and were more willing to submit to preemptive evacuation, officials said.

In Agusan del Sur, two persons were injured when a tree fell on their house in Bayugan City.

Thousands of residents in Tacloban City, Leyte and St. Bernard, Southern Leyte, were evacuated as a preemptive measure. In Bacolod City, residents in coastal areas have packed their belongings.

Tacloban City Mayor Alfred Romualdez said that 247 families, or about 1,214 persons from seven barangays had been evacuated since Monday night to the Tacloban City Convention centre.

The Coast Guard in Legazpi City said a 6-metre storm surge hit the shorelines of Catanduanes, preventing vessels from docking at Virac port.

With reports from Germelina Lacorte, Dennis Jay Santos and Jeoffrey Maitem, Inquirer Mindanao; Jani Arnaiz, Joey Gabieta, Carla Gomez, Jhunnex Napallacan, Nestor Burgos Jr., Felipe Celino and Alex V. Pal, Inquirer Visayas; and Mar S. Arguelles, Inquirer Southern Luzon

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