Philippine President Surveys Damage from Deadly Tropical Storm

Jeoffrey Maitem
General Santos City, Philippines
171218-PH-Duterte-1000.JPG President Rodrigo Duterte surveys damage caused by Tropical Storm Kai-Tak in the central Philippines, Dec. 18, 2017.
Handout/Presidential Communications Operations Office

President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday visited parts of the central Philippines battered by Tropical Storm Kai-Tak, which left at least 30 people dead, dozens missing and 240,000 residents displaced over the weekend, according to officials.

While the slow-moving storm kept wreaking havoc as it churned westward, rescuers were searching Monday for at least 46 people who were unaccounted for after the severe system made landfall on Saturday over the island province of Eastern Samar, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) said.

Most of the casualties from the storm (also known as Tropical Depression “Urdaja”) were from low-lying villages or towns near mountains where landslides had occurred, particularly in Biliran town where at least 14 people were buried alive and presumed dead, NDRRMC said.

Duterte traveled by helicopter to survey and visits areas ravaged by the storm, said his spokesman, Harry Roque. Local mayors told the president they needed government support, and, in turn, Duterte “asked them to submit a list of projects they would [need] for their respective municipalities.”

“The mayor of Biliran warned that food supplies would only last until today and the president said that if the supplies do not come soon enough, he would order the Air Force to airlift food supplies,” Roque said.

In related news, guerrillas with the communist National People’s Army (NPA) apparently attacked soldiers on Saturday who were taking part in a convoy to deliver relief supplies to Samar island.

“[The president] directed the DILG [the Interior Department] to intensify rescue operations for individuals who are still missing, and also to convey his condemnation of the NPA attacks on humanitarian soldiers engaged in humanitarian work in Samar, reiterating that this is the reason why he has opted to cease all talks with the NPA,” Roque said on Monday.

Two soldiers were injured in the attack. Neither the NPA, nor its political wing, the Communist Party of the Philippines, have claimed responsibility for the attack. Following previous major calamities, the NPA allowed critical aid convoys to pass through unhampered and helped bring aid to far-flung communities.

A flooded area of the central Philippines is seen from President Rodrigo Duterte’s helicopter, Dec. 18, 2017. (Handout/Presidential Communications Operations Office)
A flooded area of the central Philippines is seen from President Rodrigo Duterte’s helicopter, Dec. 18, 2017. (Handout/Presidential Communications Operations Office)


Heavy downpour, landslides

About half of the 240,000 Filipinos uprooted by the storm were sheltering in evacuation centers, while the rest were staying with relatives or friends, NDRRMC agency spokeswoman Mina Marasigan said Monday.

“On Saturday, there was a tornado followed by a landslide,” said Lolita Rosel, of the Biliran municipal disaster risk agency. “Fourteen were buried and died in the incident.”

Kai-Tak carried maximum sustained winds of 75 km per hour (46 mph) at the center, and gusts of 90 km per hour (55 mph), as it slammed into Eastern Samar over the weekend.

It slowed down a bit and dumped heavy rain across large parts of the region, making landfall four more times, the last of which was on the western island of Palawan on Monday morning, the state weather agency said.

Roque said relief and emergency response workers have been asked to work over the Christmas holiday to ensure that power and communications lines were restored.

The defense department and civil defense office were closely monitoring “any possible weather disturbance and is working round-the-clock to render the necessary services,” said Roque, who also surveyed the damaged area from a helicopter.

“According to PAGASA [the state weather bureau], the Urduja unleashed two months’ worth of rains in one day in the provinces of Biliran and Samar, where some of the heavy damage has been recorded,” Roque said in a radio interview.

The storm followed the track of super-typhoon Haiyan, the world’s strongest weather disturbance to make landfall, in 2013.

That storm, with gusts of more than 275 km per hour (170 mph), left more than 6,300 people dead and caused massive destruction, particularly in the city of Tacloban, where flood waters engulfed homes and buildings within hours, leaving vehicles on tree tops and bloated bodies in its wake.

Froilan Gallardo contributed to this report.


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