Typhoon Bopha leaves over 270 dead
By David Eimer in Bangkok (Telegraph): Hundreds of people are missing while entire villages have been wiped out in the wake of the most powerful storm to hit the Philippines this year, as rescue teams battled blocked roads and driving rain to reach the most isolate areas.
The death toll from Typhoon Bopha rose past 280 on Wednesday, with 160 people alone killed in the worst-affected province of Compostela Valley, after Bopha slammed into the eastern coast of Mindanao island in the southern Philippines on Tuesday.
Bringing winds of up to 130mph and torrential rain, the storm has forced 170,000 people to flee their homes.
Another 115 victims of the typhoon are confirmed to have perished in six towns across neighbouring Davao Oriental Province, where Bopha made landfall.
“Entire families were washed away,” Manuel Roxas, the Philippines interior minister, said, adding that at least 300 people were still missing.
One stunned survivor said he had lost his mother and brother in a flash flood.
“The last thing my mother said to me was ‘I love you’. I no longer have a family,” said Julius Rebucas.
The sheer force of the rain triggered waves of water and landslides that swept down from mountain tops and submerged entire towns and villages. In one area alone, two dozen people were pulled from the mud alive and evacuated to hospital.
Most of those who died in Compostela Valley Province were villagers and soldiers who had gathered in emergency shelters and a military camp in New Bataan town to flee the typhoon.
“They thought they were already secure in a safe area, but they didn’t know the torrents of water would go their way,” Compostela Valley provincial governor Arturo Uy said.
Mr Uy said that the speed of the floods had engulfed many people. “The waters came so suddenly and unexpectedly, and the winds were so fierce, that compounded the loss of lives,” he said.
In neighbouring Davao Oriental Province, locals described winds so powerful that they reduced villages to nothing.
“I was told the force of the wind could even lift an army truck loaded with troops from the ground,” said Rommil Mitra, a local police chief.
Rescue teams said large parts of the affected areas were now nothing more than a bleak, mud-churned landscape of collapsed houses and flattened coconut and banana plantations littered with bodies.
With roads blocked by collapsed bridges and felled trees and power and communications cut, the provincial governor of Davao Oriental said rescuers trying to reach the most isolated parts of the province were “running an obstacle course”.
Helicopters were being used to fly in army rescue teams and bring desperately-needed food, water and clothing to survivors left with nothing.
87,000 people were evacuated ahead of Bopha’s arrival, one of the 20 or so typhoons that hit the Philippines annually.
Officials were anxious to show they had heeded the lessons of the devastation caused by last year’s Typhoon Washi, which left more than 1,300 people dead when it hit an unprepared Mindanao last year.
But Bopha was a more powerful storm and has wreaked unexpected havoc, destroying an estimated 70-80 per cent of the coastal region’s banana plantations and much of its infrastructure, even if the death toll is lower than that of Washi.
By Wednesday evening, Bopha had moved northwest over Palawan Island, a popular tourist destination, with winds still reported as reaching over 90mph. It is expected to weaken further as it heads into the South China Sea on Thursday.