Survivors need water, food, clothes - gov't

MANILA, Philippines (3RD UPDATE) - The government appealed for help on Thursday, December 6, as a quarter million people were left homeless and more than 400 confirmed dead after the Philippines' worst typhoon this year.

Undersecretary Benito Ramos, head of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC), told media that the survivors are in need of food, water, and clothing, since many of them had their belongings washed out by the floods and landslides.

He also said that they are still in search-and-rescue mode, particularly since many are still reported to be under mud-covered houses and structures.

For details on relief centers nationwide, check Rappler's list here. For relief operations, Ramos directed people to coordinate with the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).

People in evacuation centers now number 177,452, housed in 397 centers in regions IV-B (Mimaropa), VI (Western Visayas), VII (Central Visayas), VIII (Eastern Visayas), X (Northern Mindanao), XI (Southern Mindanao), and CARAGA.

Typhoon "Pablo" (Bopha) ploughed across Mindanao island on Tuesday, December 4, flattening whole towns in its path as hurricane-force winds brought torrential rain that triggered a deadly combination of floods and landslides.

Erinea Cantilla and her family of 6 walked barefoot for two days in a vain search for food and shelter through a muddy wasteland near the mountainous town of New Bataan, Compostela Valley, after the deluge destroyed their house and banana and cocoa farm.

"Everything we had is gone. The only ones left are dead people," Cantilla told AFP as she and her husband, three children and a granddaughter reached the outskirts of the town, which itself had been nearly totally obliterated.

Rescuers said they were looking for 380 missing while seeking help for more than 250,000 others who were sheltered in schools, gyms and other buildings after losing everything.

Of the dead, 258 were found on the east coast of Mindanao while 191 were recovered in and around New Bataan and Monkayo, said Maj Gen Ariel Bernardo, commander of the 10th infantry division based on Compostela Valley.

The NDRRMC said a total of 488 barangays in 145 municipalities and 22 cities, in 25 provinces have been affected by the typhoon, which bore down on Mindanao and Visayas Tuesday to Wednesday.

Surigao del Sur, Davao Oriental, and Compostela Valley are all under a state of calamity.

MORE DEATHS. Up to 139 people died in Compostela Valley due to Typhoon Pablo. Photo by Karlos Manlupig

MORE DEATHS. Up to 139 people died in Compostela Valley due to Typhoon Pablo.

Photo by Karlos Manlupig

Ramos noted that figures were "rising rapidly from single- to triple-digits" as rescuers reach more remote areas.

"Communications are bogged down, there is no electricity, roads and bridges have been destroyed," Ramos said.

Ramos said the identification process of the bodies continue, and that cadavers that are unclaimed will be buried within 72 hours, after they are processed for fingerprints, dental records, and DNA samples for later identification.

"Bibigyan [ang mga ito] ng decent burial (They will be given a decent burial)," Ramos said in an ABS-CBN interview.

A C130 military cargo plane and a navy ship are ready to proceed to the typhoon-ravaged areas to bring relief goods from Manila, he added.

'Utter devastation'

Children infront of their damaged home in New Bataan, Compostela Valley, December 5, 2012. Photo by Karlos Manlupig.

Children infront of their damaged home in New Bataan, Compostela Valley, December 5, 2012. Photo by Karlos Manlupig.

Interior Secretary Mar Roxas and Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman, who flew to the area to inspect the damage, described scenes of utter devastation with thousands of houses ripped apart and corpses lying on the ground.

"These are whole families, 6 or 7 names with the same surnames. It is saddening to think entire families have been washed away," Roxas said.

"There is hardly any structure that is undamaged," he said in an interview Wednesday.

"We need to rush to these areas body bags, medicines, dry clothes and most importantly tents, because survivors are living out in the open," Soliman told AFP.

Bodies caked in mud were being transported on the back of army trucks and laid out in rows on tarpaulins where relatives searching for missing family members broke down as they identified the shrouded corpses of loved ones.

Shell-shocked survivors scrabbled through the rubble of their homes to find anything that could be recovered among a surrounding wasteland of flattened banana and coconut trees.

The NDRRMC has placed the damage brought by the typhoon at P178 million, a large part due to infrastructure.

Losses amounted to P2.5 million in agriculture, and P3.5 million worth of private property were damaged.

More than 3,500 passengers are also stranded in ports throughout southern Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao, along with 496 rolling cargoes, 105 vessels, and 19 motor bancas.

Six bridges and 14 roads were damaged, while power outages are still reported in large parts of the disaster area, as well in several provinces in Visayas.

'Big difference'

CRAMPED. Dozens of homeless residents must make do in crowded schools and other buildings still standing. Photo by Karlos Manlupig

CRAMPED. Dozens of homeless residents must make do in crowded schools and other buildings still standing.

Photo by Karlos Manlupig

President Benigno Aquino III said he hoped the country was learning from its frequent natural disasters, including the roughly 20 cyclones that hit each year.

"Any single casualty is a cause for distress. Our aim must always be about finding ways to lessen them," he told reporters in Manila, while pointing out the "big difference" in casualty counts compared with previous storms.

The United Nations office for disaster risk reduction said many lives had been saved by improved early warning systems.

Jerry Velazquez, who heads the agency's Asia office, singled out new automated rainfall and flood predictions systems, which he said had greatly improved forecasting and made it possible to more quickly alert people at risk.

He said they have "enabled central government agencies, local governments and citizens to prepare and act before intense weather arrives."

Aquino said the government was also investigating why an army patrol base in New Bataan, which was washed away in the flash floods, had been located in a flood-prone area.

Officials were also checking reports that an evacuation center there was among the structures wiped out in the floods, the president added.

"According to (survivors), there is a small lake on the mountain that gave way so the waters flowed down, not just along the rivers... but all across, like a waterfall, bringing a slurry that covered the whole town," Roxas said.

One shelter there had caved in during the typhoon, forcing the people inside to flee to an even smaller building, he said.

Pablo was the most powerful of the 16 storms to pummel the Philippines this year, though Mindanao is not usually on the front line.

Regional military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Lyndon Paniza said 3 soldiers taking part in rescue operations were killed in New Bataan, with 8 others from the same unit among the missing.

"It is quite sad and tragic. They were actually there to be ready to help our countrymen who may be in trouble," Roxas said. - Rappler.com / Agence France-Presse