DATU ODIN SINSUAT: Philippine rescuers on Monday waded through thigh-deep mud using long pieces of wood to search for bodies buried by a landslide, as the death toll from a powerful storm rose to 98.
Just over half of the fatalities were from a series of flash floods and landslides unleashed by Tropical Storm Nalgae, which destroyed villages on the southern island of Mindanao on Friday.
There is little hope of finding survivors in the worst-hit areas after the storm swept across the archipelago nation, inundating communities in and around the capital Manila over the weekend.
The national disaster agency has recorded 63 people still missing and scores of others injured. Perfidia Seguendia, 71, and her family lost all their belongings except the clothes they were wearing when they fled to their neighbour’s two-storey house in Noveleta municipality, south of Manila.
Everything was flooded — our fridge, washing machine, motorcycle, TV, everything, Seguendia told AFP.
All we managed to do was to cry because we can’t really do anything about it. We weren’t able to save anything, just our lives.
The Philippine Coast Guard posted pictures on Facebook showing its personnel in devastated Kusiong village, in Maguindanao del Norte province of Mindanao, struggling through thick, thigh-deep mud and water as they searched for more bodies.
Rescuers poked long pieces of wood into the morass looking for five missing villagers, after recovering 20 bodies in recent days, the coast guard said.
We have shifted our operation from search and rescue to retrieval because the chances of survival after two days are almost nil, said Naguib Sinarimbo, civil defence chief of the Bangsamoro region in Mindanao.
Meanwhile, survivors faced the heartbreaking task of cleaning up their sodden homes.
Residents shovelled mud from their houses and shops after piling their furniture and other belongings in the streets of Noveleta.
In my entire life living here, it’s the first time we experienced this kind of flooding, said Joselito Ilano, 55, whose house was flooded by waist-high water.
I am used to flooding here but this is just the worst, I was caught by surprise.
President Ferdinand Marcos began touring some of the hard-hit areas on Monday, including Noveleta, as aid agencies rushed food packs, drinking water and other relief to victims.
Marcos said preemptive evacuations in Noveleta had saved lives.
While the calamity was huge, the number of casualties was not that high, although there’s a lot of damage to infrastructure, he said.
Nalgae inundated villages, destroyed crops and knocked out power in many regions as it swept across the country.
It struck on an extended weekend for All Saints’ Day, which is on Tuesday, when millions of Filipinos travel to visit the graves of loved ones.
Scientists have warned that deadly and destructive storms are becoming more powerful as the world gets warmer because of climate change.
The state weather forecaster warned that another tropical storm was heading towards the Philippines even as Nalgae moved across the South China Sea.
Starting Wednesday, the new weather system could bring more heavy rain and misery to southern and central regions badly affected by Nalgae.
Landslides and flash floods originating from largely deforested mountainsides have been among the deadliest hazards posed by storms in the Philippines in recent years.