Dozens of people died and thousands fled their homes after a tropical storm slammed the Philippines at the weekend, dumping heavy rain over large areas in the eastern seaboard as the country prepared to greet the New Year, authorities said Sunday.
The number of people who have died due to rain-induced floods and landslides has reached 45 in the Bicol region, regional Office of Civil Defense director Claudio Yucot said.
“These are initial reports,” he told reporters. “The figure can still go up because there are reports of missing.”
In giving a breakdown of the deaths by area, the regional office said 13 died in Albay province; 16 in Camarines Sur; three in Camarines Norte; six in Sorsogon; and seven in Masbate.
Yucot said the public may have let their guard down after the government’s weather agency downgraded the storm's severity warning.
“Many people chose to stay at home after the storm warning was downgraded,” Yucot said, adding that residents in low lying areas in the town of Tiwi had reported hearing a loud sound before water came tumbling down of the slopes causing floods.
The storm, given the local name "Usman," struck on Saturday evening, as most of the Catholic country was preparing for the New Year. It churned maximum winds of 55 kilometres (34 miles) an hour and gusts of 65 kph (40 mph). The storm did not raise alarm in a country used to weathering some 20 storms a year, some of them devastating.
Manila’s disaster risk agency spokesman, Edgar Posadas, said that officials had done their part in raising warnings, and had told residents in the storm’s path to take precautions days before it hit.
"The government has played its role here. What we need is immediate action and sincere participation of the people in the communities in times of calamities,” Posadas said.
According to reports, more than 22,000 people fled their homes ahead of the storm.
Manuel Damo, the disaster relief chief in the town of Tiwi, said seven bodies, most of them minors, were retrieved Sunday in the landslide-hit town.
The victims must have relaxed after Usman was declared a low pressure area. Most people opted to stay at home than go to evacuation sites. They didn’t know that the rain would be more dangerous than the storm,” Damo said.
In September, typhoon Mangkhut unleashed heavy rains and barreled through the nation with winds of 170 kph (105 mph) and 260 kph (160 mph) gusts, causing two major landslides that left 141 people dead.