Philippines presses on with search for people missing after tropical storm Megi

Basilio Sepe and Jeoffrey Maitem
Philippines presses on with search for people missing after tropical storm Megi A government helicopter flies over a community that was buried by a landslide unleashed by Tropical Storm Megi, in Baybay City, Leyte province, central Philippines, April 14, 2022.
Handout photo/Presidential Communications Operations Office

Search teams have retrieved dozens more bodies in the central Philippines, where landslides from Tropical Storm Megi buried an entire community last week, as the nationwide death toll reached nearly 200 with scores of others still missing, officials said Thursday.

The storm, known locally as Agaton, displaced more than two million people in nine regions after it made landfall on April 12, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) said.

“We are not losing hope no matter how (complicated) the situation is … It’s always a race against time. Several days have passed but we’re still hoping against hope that we will find more survivors,” NDRRMC spokesperson Mark Timbal told reporters.

Many of those uprooted by the storm, which dumped heavy rain that caused landslide and flooding, were sheltering in makeshift evacuation centers nine days later, the agency said.

The council confirmed the death toll had climbed to 178 across the country, but said the authorities were carrying on with searching for at least 111 people still listed as missing in the storm’s aftermath.

In its latest report, the agency revised down figures it issued on Thursday morning of 224 dead and 147 others missing. However, it noted, “the final toll could still climb.”

Megi was the first storm to hit the Southeast Asian archipelago this year. The country endures about 20 storms yearly, some of them devastating.

In November 2013, more than 6,500 people died or were missing after Super Typhoon Haiyan battered the central Philippines, causing massive storm surges that inundated coastal communities.

President Rodrigo Duterte looks at destruction caused by Tropical Storm Megi (Agaton) as he travels in a helicopter over Baybay City in Leyte province, central Philippines, during a visit to the disaster zone, April 14, 2022. [Handout photo/Presidential Communications Operations Office]

Many of the deaths from the storm and its aftermath were recorded in the Eastern Visayas region, where most of the victims drowned as they were washed away by flash floods.

“The relatives of the missing victims are waiting for us (to recover survivors). As much as possible, we want to give them hope,” said Col. Noel Vestuir, commander of the Army’s 802nd Brigade.

“As long as the risk is manageable, our teams will continue with the search, (rescue) and retrieval operations,” he added, but emphasized that with several days having passed, it was unlikely that any survivors would be found.

Police search-and-rescue teams have fanned out in areas that remain buried under mud in Baybay, a city in Leyte province, in hopes of locating any survivors. So far, there have been no dramatic rescues nor tearful reunions.

“There are still possibilities we can recover survivors. We cannot just say ‘stop the search.’ People cannot understand that, especially the relatives of the (missing) victims who want to find their missing loved ones,” Maj. Gen. Bernard Banac, the police chief for Eastern Visayas, told reporters.

President Rodrigo Duterte, who visited storm-affected areas last week to distribute aide, also conducted an aerial inspection of the devastation and vowed to provide new homes to families who had lost everything.

“So, to all of you who lost their houses in the typhoon, you will be given a new house but it would be a long, long process and not an easy one. But the government will help you resettle first,” Duterte said, according to a statement from his office. 


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