By Jeoffrey Maitem and Richel V. Umel
At least 120 people were reported killed and dozens more missing in landslides and floods unleashed by torrential rains from Tropical Storm Tembin as it battered the southern Philippines, officials said Saturday.
As of Saturday night (local time), regional emergency response teams and tallies by BenarNews correspondents reporting from affected communities in Mindanao island – which bore the brunt of the storm – put the number of dead at as many as 128 people. Sixty-two deaths were reported in Lanao del Norte province, as well as 18 in Lanao del Sur province, 46 in Zamboanga del Norte province and two in Iligan city.
Nearly 73,000 people were affected by the storm (also known as Vinta), which made landfall in the southern Philippines on Thursday night, according to Harry Roque, the spokesman for President Rodrigo Duterte.
Roque said it was unfortunate that another tropical storm had made its presence felt in the Philippines so close to Christmas.
“We in the national government shall continue to provide assistance to affected communities,” he said in a statement issued in Manila.
“Our DSWD [social work] 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,” he added.
The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council in Manila had yet not released officially updated figures on the storm.
Banana leaves, blankets
In Salvador, a hard-hit town in Lanao del Norte, Engineer Rodel Maghinay, the local municipal disaster officer, said rampaging floodwaters and mudslides had buried several villages a few days before Christmas.
In one area here, residents were seen using an improvised wooden raft after the storm destroyed a major bridge, cutting of 15 villages.
In the farming village of Dalama in Tubod town, also in Lanao del Norte, 19 bodies were recovered.
Residents and volunteers fished out bodies from the muddy banks of a river, and then solemnly took them to an open basketball court, covering the dead in blankets.
One bloated body was covered in banana leaves. Nearby, a man cleaned mud from a victim who had drowned, as a crowd of locals looked on in stunned silence.
Maria Cristina Atay, the vice governor of Lanao del Norte, said officials had placed the entire province under a state of calamity on Saturday afternoon so the local government could free up emergency funds.
In Sibuco town in Zamboanga del Norte province, five people were reportedly buried alive while dozens were carried away as a landslide cascaded down the slopes.
“It is possible that they disregarded the warning of the local government” about the flooding risks, Sibuco mayor Norbideiri Edding told a local radio station.
At least 20 tropical storms and typhoons batter the Philippines every year. Tembin was the twenty-second severe weather system to enter the country this year.
Tembin made landfall on Mindanao a few days after another storm, Kai-Tak, pounded most of the central Philippines and parts of the main Philippine island of Luzon Island last weekend, killing dozens of people.
On August 2011, more than 600 died and 800 went missing when typhoon Washi hit Mindanao.
Two years later, in November 2013, Super Typhoon Haiyan left more than 6,300 people dead and thousands more missing.
That typhoon, known in the country as Yolanda, had sustained winds of 235 km per hour (147 mph) with gusts of 275 km per hour (170 mph) when it made landfall.
The weather disturbance was comparable to a Category 4 hurricane in the United States.