Vinta death toll tops 200

People gather at a bridge damaged by flooding during the onslaughts of tropical storm Vinta in Zamboanga del Sur. AP

Vinta death toll tops 200

Helen Flores (The Philippine Star) - December 24, 2017 - 4:00pm

MANILA, Philippines — Some 200 people have been killed and tens of thousands of others displaced in Mindanao as Tropical Storm Vinta (international name Tembin) exited the Philippine area of responsibility yesterday after triggering landslides and mudslides that ravaged towns in the country’s southern region.

Most of the victims were from Salvador and Sapad towns in Lanao del Norte, one of the provinces hardest hit by the storm.

Vinta – the 22nd cyclone to enter the Philippines this year and probably the last for 2017 – continued to bring rains and rough seas in Palawan on Christmas Eve.

Scattered to widespread moderate to occasionally heavy rains were still expected over Palawan although the tropical storm warning signal on the province was already lifted, according to the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA).

“Sea travel remains risky over the western seaboard of Palawan due to the typhoon,” the state weather bureau said.

As of 9:30 a.m., the eye of Vinta was spotted at 290 kilometers south of Pagasa island, Palawan, packing winds of 120 kilometers per hour near the center and gustiness of up to 145 kph.

It was forecast to move west at 26 kph.

Meanwhile, no new weather disturbance is expected to affect the country this week.

The northeast monsoon, however, will bring light rains over Northern Luzon today, Christmas Day.

The easterlies, on the other hand, will bring cloudy skies with scattered rains and thunderstorms over the Bicol region, Quezon province and Eastern Visayas.

Metro Manila and the rest of the country will experience partly cloudy to cloudy skies with isolated rain showers.

144 missing; 40,000 evacuated

Further, local police said 144 people remained missing while more than 40,000 had fled to evacuation camps as Vinta roared out into the South China Sea early yesterday.

A total of 70,000 have been displaced or affected by the storm, according to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), which warned that continued heavy rains could hamper the search for survivors.

“People left everything behind when they fled for their lives,” IFRC – Philippines’ operations and programs manager Patrick Elliott said in a statement.

The Philippines is pummeled by major storms every year, many of them deadly, but Mindanao tends to be less affected.

Footage showed that vast tracts of land on the island are now under water, often waist-deep as locals try to flee to safer ground.

Local police said 135 people were killed and 72 missing in the northern section of Mindanao, while 47 were dead and 72 missing in the impoverished Zamboanga peninsula on its western side.

Another 18 people perished in the province of Lanao del Sur in the center of the island.

Village erased

One of the places hit hardest by the storm was the mountain village of Dalama, which was virtually erased from the map.

Footage filmed by ABS-CBN showed houses destroyed or engulfed by floodwaters there and rescuers retrieving the body of a girl buried in a landslide.

Police, soldiers and volunteers used shovels and their bare hands to dig through mud and debris in their search for survivors.

“The flood was already close and the people were not able to get out from their homes,” Armando Sangcopan, an elderly male survivor, told the network.

Rescuers said a total of 103 houses were carried off by rampaging floodwaters in Dalama.

In Palawan, civil defense chief Zaldy Ablana told radio station dzMM in an interview yesterday that the province had zero casualty.

“But we have accounts of some people missing,” he said.

In a fishing village there, however, a 53-year-old man was killed by a crocodile while securing his boat at riverside.

Vinta struck less than a week after Tropical Storm Urduja (international name Kai-Tak) left scores dead and more than 20 missing in central Philippines, straining the disaster-prone nation’s already stretched resources.

The deadliest typhoon to hit the country is still Yolanda (Haiyan) which killed thousands and destroyed entire towns in heavily populated areas of the central Philippines in November 2013.

Search, rescue reinforcement

As the death figure continued to rise, the military has shifted focus from security as they mobilized large forces and continued search and rescue operations in Western and parts of Central Mindanao that were hardly whipped by Vinta, Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) chief Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr. said.

Galvez said soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines have been on relentless search, rescue and relief operations in different areas affected by the storm.

“All our air and naval assets and all our military ambulance were reserved, have been mobilized and responded to the situation,” Galvez said, giving assurance that threat groups will not be able to take advantage of the situation and wreak further havoc on communities.

Philippine Air Force (PAF) helicopters served as the eye in the sky for the ground forces to quickly access areas that needed immediate help.

“It is also with grief that we report that 103 persons died mostly due to flash floods, with 179 still missing and 44 injured,” Galvez said.

Galvez said the number of persons affected and evacuated reached 36,899 with 4,344 affected families.

Galvez said the different joint task forces have temporarily re-focused on search and rescue operations in coordination with the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction Management Offices (PDRRMO) of provinces affected by the storm.

He said Joint Task Force Zampelan (Zambonga peninsula and Lanao) commander Brig. Gen. Roseller Murillo visited Lanao del Norte and reported 100 passengers were stranded and 40 other vehicles stranded due to impassable roads.

As of Saturday night, the Lanao del Norte PDRRMO reported 2,738 families with 15,924 persons were evacuated to different evacuation centers in the province.

Murillo reported that the most affected area within Lanao del Norte are the towns of Salvador with 18 confirmed dead and 47 missing in Salvador while there were 63 missing in Munai town.

He said troops from 5th Mechanized Infantry Battalion, local police, and other volunteers conducted rescue and recovery operations in the area.

Troops from the 103rd Army Birgade led by Col. Generoso Ponio also provided assistance to the residents of Bubong town and Tugaya.

Troops were also clearing the roads in Bacolod-Kalawi, Madalum and Ganasi to allow access to commuters along the main highways.

The Lanao del Sur PDRRMO also reported 12 persons dead in Lanao del Sur Province: four in Madalum; four in Tugaya; two in Balindong; one in Tamparan; and one in Bacolod-Kalawi. At least seven others were still missing while 28 were reported injured, Galvez said.

As this developed, Galvez said his forces in Zamboanga del Norte have been on massive search and retrieval operations with the civilian PDRRMO.

Authorities have so far retrieved 27 bodies and the number continued to climb with 81 still missing and seven injured in Zamboanga del Norte.

Highway-clearing

In Lanao del Sur, engineers have cleared stretches of provincial highways that were blocked by mud and trees toppled by Vinta’s strong winds on Friday.

Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Gov. Mujiv Hataman yesterday said the heavy equipment of their public works department are proceeding to far-flung areas to continue clearing roads from mudslides.

Hataman said personnel of their social welfare department and ARMM’s Humanitarian Emergency Assistance and Response Team, more commonly known as HEART, are trying to get through barangays isolated due to landslides.

ARMM’s public works secretary Don Loong said the heavy equipment of their two district engineering offices in Lanao del Sur are now helping Gov. Soraya Adiong restore the flow of traffic on vital roads in the province.
The office of Adiong, a first-term Lanao del Sur governor, is reaching out to thousands of flood-stricken Maranaos.

Personnel of the Lanao del Sur provincial government have extended initial relief services to displaced residents in the towns of Bubong Ramain, Ditsaan Ramain, Buadipuso-Buntong, Wato Balindong and Tugaya in operations that commenced early Saturday.

Rampaging flashfloods swept through the six towns last Friday after rivers that spring from forested hinterlands in Lanao del Sur overflowed due to torrential rains.

More than 20 Maranaos perished in the flash floods, according to reports reaching the ARMM regional capitol in Cotabato City.

The office of Adiong expanded its rescue and relief missions to the towns of Tamparan, Poona Bayabao and Lumba Bayabao yesterday.

Parts of the adjoining Pagalungan and Montawal towns in Maguindanao, both located along the 220,000-hectare Liguasan Delta in central Mindanao, have also been inundated following two days of heavy rain in many parts of the region.

‘Pasko Fiesta’ in Davao canceled

Presidential daughter and Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio has decided to cancel, if not delay, some of the activities lined up for this year’s “Pasko Fiesta” activities in light of the flash floods that struck most parts of the city last Friday night.

Duterte-Carpio urged Dabawenyos to instead sympathize with the thousands who lost their homes and properties in the floods caused by Vinta’s onslaught.

“This is not the time for merrymaking, for partying even if it’s the holidays. What we should do, stay with our families, celebrate our Christmas with (them) and say our prayers, thank God for the blessings that we received for the past year,” she said in a press briefing yesterday morning.
“And for those who want to do something, instead of partying, they can help us in the city government in our relief distribution, which will last until after Christmas,” she added.

At least 6,614 families or 31,375 individuals encompassing several barangays were affected by floods in Davao City last Friday night.

UN ready to support Phl

Meanwhile, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres expressed sadness at the loss of lives and devastation in the country caused by Vinta, as he gave assurance that the organization stands ready to provide support.

“(Secretary-General Guterres) salutes the efforts of the national rescue and recovery teams as well as volunteers who are operating under difficult conditions,” a statement of Stephane Dujarric, spokesperson for Guterres, said.

“The UN stands ready to support the local and national authorities, in addition to the support already being provided by humanitarian partners,” the statement added.

According to the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OHCA), 151 evacuation centres have been set up but the number of displaced persons could rise as information from the field comes in.

Guterres also offered his sympathies to the families of the victims and wished a speedy recovery to those injured. – With AFP, Roel Pareño, John Unson, Edith Regalado, Pia Lee-Brago, Paolo Romero

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