ZAMBOANGA CITY , Philippines — Over a hundred people are feared dead in Mindanao from Tropical Storm Vinta, officials said yesterday, with concerns the figure would rise as dozens remain missing.
Initial reports said the death toll climbed swiftly to 133 as rescuers retrieved 36 more bodies from Salog River in Zamboanga del Sur.
The bodies were swept down river from Salvador town in Lanao del Norte where rescuers retrieved 17 other bodies upstream, officials said.
Salvador and Sapad towns are in Lanao del Norte, one of the provinces hardest hit by Vinta.
The death toll for the Zamboanga peninsula also rose to 28, and police said 81 people were missing after mud and rocks swept down on coastal communities in Sibuco and other fishing towns.
“It is possible that they disregarded the warning of the local government about the flooding risks,” Sibuco Mayor Norbideiri Edding said over radio dzMM.
“We’re hoping that they are still alive,” he said of the missing.
Regional deputy police director Senior Supt. Edwin de Ocampo said the town of Sibuco registered the most number of fatalities at 30 with eight missing, particularly from the coastal village of Barangay Anongan.
Office of Civil Defense (OCD) regional director
Manuel Luis Ochotorena said they have confirmed 18 of the dead and the eight others missing.
He said most of the victims were swept away by rampaging floodwaters.
Ochotorena said the sudden surge of floodwaters and the prevailing high tide in the area might have contributed to the high number of casualties.
He said the residents did not heed the advice and warning of authorities despite the order of preemptive evacuation.
“Two days before the arrival of Tropical Storm Vinta, Barangay Anongan had been advised to go on a preemptive evacuation and still it happened and people did not heed the call to leave, which resulted in the dead and missing,” Ochotorena said.
Edding said search and rescue was underway for more than 30 people swept away by flash floods in Anongan. He added five bodies have been recovered.
At least 76 barangays in the 13 towns of Zamboanga del Norte, Zamboanga del Sur, Zamboanga Sibugay, Zamboanga City were also flooded.
The floods displaced close to 10,000 residents in the affected areas due to the incessant rains, officials said.
Police reported 19 deaths in the mountain village of Dalama near Tubod town, and 26 others in surrounding towns and cities of Lanao del Norte.
“The river rose and most of the homes were swept away. The village is no longer there,” Tubod police officer Gerry Parami said.
Police, soldiers and volunteers used shovels to dig through mud and debris in a bid to recover bodies in the farming village of about 2,000 people, Parami added.
Lanao del Sur Gov. Soraya Adiong said 18 were initially reported killed in the flashfloods that hit the towns of Tamparan, Wato, Tugaya, Madalum, Bubong, Marantao, Ramain, Tamparan, Poona-Bayabao, Bacolod Kalawi and parts of Marawi City.
“These are only from initial reports coming in. Communication became so difficult as a consequence of the storm,” Adiong said.
Elsewhere, boulders brought down by flash floods buried around 40 houses in the town of Piagapo, killing at least 10 people, OCD officer Saripada Pacasum of Lanao del Sur said.
“We’ve sent rescuers but they’re making little progress due to the rocks,” Pacasun said, adding the storm had killed eight other people elsewhere in Lanao del Sur.
Reports of more deaths were slowly trickling in from other parts of Mindanao, which is experiencing power and communication outages due to the storm.
Malacañang yesterday assured the people government is doing its best to help save more lives and reach out to the victims of the storm that struck Mindanao just two days before Christmas.
“It is unfortunate that another tropical cyclone, Vinta, made its presence felt so near Christmas,” presidential spokesman Harry Roque said.
Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) Gov. Mujiv Hataman said the regional government has allocated funds to finance the assistance to the victims of the storm.
Hataman said ARMM officials are also monitoring the situation in Basilan because of continuous heavy rain in the province.
So far, reports received from the remaining provinces of the region, specifically Maguindanao, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi, have not been as alarming, he said.
Hataman stressed the province of Lanao del Sur has reported the heaviest damage from the storm.
He said 12 towns in Lanao del Sur experienced heavy flooding and landslides. These are the towns of Wato Balindong, Bubong, Madalum, Tugaya, Bacolod Kalawi, Madamba, Tamparan, Piagapo, Calanogas, Maguing, Poona Bayabao and Ditsaan Ramain.
“The province of Lanao del Sur suffered the heaviest damage from the storm. We should focus on helping the province, especially just after the Marawi siege,” Hataman said.
Sen. Grace Poe said she expects help to be on its way to the landslide victims in Tubod in the province.
“We know that rescue and relief efforts are dangerous for our rescue workers because of the condition in the area. Thus, those involved in this effort must also take caution,” Poe said.
Once all of the affected residents have been secured, Poe said the government should study the geohazard map and “plan accordingly using this as guide.”
“The map will show us the danger zones and other areas that may be perilous for habitation,” Poe said.
“Disaster preparation and mitigation should be at the center of every program of local government units as we face the realities of climate change. We pray for strength and resilience for the victims, as we gather support to make them overcome this tragedy, especially this holiday season,” she added.
The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) is calling for volunteers who can help repack relief goods to be distributed to families affected by the storm.
The DSWD said it needs 500 volunteers to repack goods at its National Resource Operations Center in Pasay City from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily.
Volunteers are requested to render at least four hours of their time and are encouraged to come in groups. They are advised to bring their own food and drinks and avoid wearing slippers and provocative clothing.
According to DSWD, more than 72,000 people have been affected by Vinta in 312 barangays in Regions IV-B, X, XI and CARAGA.
A total of 12,768 families or 50,362 persons were staying inside 211 evacuation centers in the affected regions as of yesterday.
The bulk of the evacuees were from Region X, where over 32,000 people have already left their homes.
“The number of affected families is expected to increase, as evacuation is still ongoing in the affected regions,” the DSWD said.
“DSWD field offices in the affected regions have activated their quick response teams and are coordinating closely with concerned local government units to immediately respond to the needs of the affected families,” it added.
The DSWD said it continues to provide assistance to Filipinos affected by Tropical Storm Urduja even as it mobilized its resources to help those affected by Vinta.
“As per latest report, 705 families or 2,891 persons are still staying in 31 evacuation centers in Regions V, VIII, and IV-B; while 198 families or 904 individuals are still staying with their families and friends,” said the agency.
“The number of houses damaged by Urduja has now increased to 2,918, while partially damaged houses number 9,123,” it added.
The DSWD said it has provided assistance worth more than P65 million to Filipinos affected by Urduja.
Vinta struck less than a week after Urduja left 54 dead and 24 missing in central Philippines.
Vinta has again intensified into a severe tropical storm as it is expected to hit southern Palawan.
In its 5 p.m. bulletin, the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) said Vinta has maximum sustained winds of 90 kilometers per hour near the center and gustiness of up to 115 kph.
As of 4 p.m. yesterday, the center of Vinta was estimated at 230 kms south of Puerto Princesa City or 170 km west of Balabac.
Vinta first gained enough intensity to be categorized as a Severe Tropical Storm on Thursday before it made its first landfall in eastern Mindanao.
Vinta weakened into a tropical depression as it crossed inland and made its way to Palawan.
The storm slightly accelerated as it moved west at 22 kph to southern Palawan.
Vinta is expected to exit the Philippine area of responsibility later in the afternoon today. – John Unson, Christina Mendez, Rhodina Villanueva, Gerry Lee-Gorit, Janvic Mateo, Jaime Laude, Edith Regalado, AFP, AP