MANILA, Oct 31: More than 100 people have died in one of the most destructive storms to lash the Philippines this year with dozens more feared missing after villagers fled in the wrong direction and got buried in a boulder-laden mudslide. Almost two million others were swamped by floods in several provinces, officials said on Monday.
At least 53 of 105 people who died — mostly in flash floods and landslides — were from Maguindanao province in a Muslim autonomous region, which was swamped by unusually heavy rains set off by Tropical Storm Nalgae. The storm blew out into the South China Sea on Sunday, leaving a trail of destruction in a large swath of the archipelago.
A large contingent of rescuers with bulldozers, backhoes and sniffer dogs resumed retrieval work in southern Kusiong village in hard-hit Maguindanao, where as many as 80 to 100 people, including entire families, are feared to have been buried by a boulder-laden mudslide or swept away by flash floods that started overnight Thursday, said Naguib Sinarimbo, the interior minister for the Bangsamoro autonomous region run by former separatist guerrillas under a peace pact.
The government’s main disaster-response agency said there were at least 98 storm deaths, and seven other fatalities were later reported by three provincial governors. At least 69 people were injured and 63 others remain missing.
About 1.9 million people were lashed by the storm, including more than 975,000 villagers who fled to evacuation centers or homes of relatives. At least 4,100 houses and 16,260 hectares (40,180 acres) of rice and other crops were damaged by floodwaters at a time when the country was bracing for a looming food crisis because of global supply disruptions, officials said.
Sinarimbo said the official tally of missing people did not include most of those feared missing in the huge mudslide that hit Kusiong because entire families may have been buried and no member was left to provide names and details to authorities.
In August 1976, an 8.1-magnitude earthquake and a tsunami in the Moro Gulf that struck around midnight left thousands of people dead and devastated coastal provinces in one of the deadliest natural disasters in Philippine history.
Lying between the Moro Gulf and 446-meter (1,464-foot) Mount Minandar, Kusiong was among the hardest hit by the 1976 catastrophe. The village never forgot the tragedy. Elderly villagers who survived the tsunami and powerful earthquake passed on the nightmarish story to their children, warning them to be prepared.
There were more than 100 rescuers from the army, police and volunteers from other provinces Saturday in Kusiong, but they were unable to dig at a spot where survivors said the church lay underneath because the muddy mound was still dangerously soft, officials said.
A coast guard video provided to media on Monday showed some of its men helping search for buried bodies in Kusiong by poking long wooden sticks into the muddy, light-brown sludge.
The stormy weather in a large swath of the country hindered transportation as millions of Filipinos planned to travel over a long weekend for visits to relatives’ tombs and for family reunions on All Saints’ Day in the largely Roman Catholic nation.
Nearly 200 domestic and international flights were canceled, Manila’s international airport was briefly closed amid stormy weather and voyages in storm-whipped seas were prohibited by the coast guard, stranding thousands of passengers. (AP)