Surigao City – The death toll from the strongest typhoon to hit the Philippines this year rose to 375 on Monday as desperate survivors asked for urgent supplies of drinking water and food.
The Philippine Red Cross reported “full slaughter” in coastal areas after super typhoon Odette (international name Rai) “tore to shreds” homes, hospitals and schools.
The storm tore off roofs, uprooted trees, toppled concrete electricity pylons, shattered wooden houses, destroyed crops and flooded villages – all of which made comparisons with the damage caused by super typhoon Yolanda (international name Haiyan) in 2013.
“Our situation is so desperate,” said Ferry Asuncion, a street vendor in the hard-hit coastal town of Surigao, which was devastated by the storm.
Local residents desperately needed “drinking water and food,” he said.
In the latest disaster that struck the archipelago, at least 375 people were killed and 56 are missing and 500 others were injured, national police said.
More than 380,000 people fled their homes and beach resorts when Odette stormed into the country Thursday.
One of the hardest hit islands was Bohol – known for its beaches, chocolate hills and tiny tarsier – where at least 94 people have died, Provincial Governor Arthur Yap said on Facebook.
A disaster was declared in Bohol’s coastal town of Ubay, in which many wooden houses were razed to the ground and fishing boats were destroyed.
A senior official with the national civil protection agency said he did not expect so many deaths.
“I was wrong, as the reports now show,” said Casiano Monilla, deputy operations manager.
Odette hit the Philippines late in the typhoon season: most cyclones develop between July and October.
Scientists have long warned that typhoons will get stronger, and intensify faster, as the world warms up due to man-made climate change.
The Philippines – one of the nations most at risk from the effects of climate change – is hit by an average of 20 storms each year, which typically destroy crops, homes and infrastructure in already impoverished areas.
In 2013, Typhoon Haiyan was the strongest storm to ever hit land, with over 7,300 people dying or missing.
Odette’s death toll is not expected to come anywhere near that number.
The Philippines has an established disaster management system that provides early warning of approaching storms and transfers vulnerable groups to evacuation centers.
But the storm has dealt a major blow to the tourism industry, which was struggling after COVID-19 restrictions decimated visitor numbers.
“SOS” was painted on a street in the tourist town of General Luna on Siargao Island, where surfers and vacationers flocked before Christmas as people fought for water and food.
“There is no more water, there is a shortage of water, on the first day there was already looting in our neighborhood,” Marja O’Donnell, owner of the Siargao resort, told CNN Philippines.
Also on the islands of Dinagat and Mindanao, which together with Siargao bore the brunt of the storm, there was widespread destruction with wind speeds of 195 kilometers per hour.
At least 14 people died in the Dinagat Islands, Provincial Information Officer Jeffrey Crisostomo told ABS-CBN broadcaster, saying the area was “leveled to the ground”.
But letters written by Dinagat residents and posted on Facebook expressed hope.
“We are happy to be alive,” Aimee Antonio-Jimeno wrote to her sister.
“Our houses are roofless, but we are not hopeless!”
Since the power went out in many areas, there is neither signal nor internet, which makes it difficult to assess the damage caused by the storm.
Thousands of soldiers, police officers, coast guards and firefighters were deployed along with food, water and medical supplies while heavy machinery – including excavators and front loaders – were sent to clear the roads.
President Rodrigo Duterte promised to seek “an additional” two billion pesos ($ 40 million) in aid, which would double his previous promise.
However, some expressed frustration with the government’s response.
“Nobody showed up – I don’t know where the politicians and (election) candidates are,” said a visibly angry Levi Lisondra, a resident of Surigao on the northern tip of Mindanao.
“We paid high taxes when we were working and now they can’t help us anymore.”
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