The death toll from Typhoon “Ompong” rose to 59 Sunday, after the storm ripped a swathe of destruction through Northern Luzon before exiting toward Hong Kong and China.
Rescue workers stepped up their efforts as dozens of people remained missing, two days after Ompong made landfall in Cagayan province.
The world’s biggest storm this year left large expanses in Northern Luzon underwater as fierce windstore trees from the ground and rain unleashed dozens of landslides.
Authorities were just beginning to count the cost of the typhoon, but police confirmed at least 59 were killed when it smashed into northern Luzon on Saturday.
In the town of Baggao, it demolished houses, tore off roofs and downed power lines. Some roads were cut off by landslides and many remained submerged.
Farms across Northern Luzon, which produces much of the nation’s rice and corn, were sitting under muddy floodwater, their crops ruined just a month before harvest.
“We’re already poor and then this happened to us. We have lost hope,” 40-year-old Mary Anne Baril, whose corn and rice crops were spoiled, said.
“We have no other means to survive,” she said tearfully.
An average of 20 typhoons and storms lash the Philippines each year, killing hundreds of people.
The latest victims were mostly people who died in landslides, including a family of four. In addition to the 59 killed in the Philippines, a woman was swept out to sea in Taiwan.
The Philippines’ deadliest storm on record is Super Typhoon ‘‘Yolanda’’ (international name ‘‘Haiyan’’), which left more than 7,350 people dead or missing across the central part of the country in November 2013.
Police statistics showed most of the deaths occurred in the Cordillera Autonomous Region, which accounted for 49 casualties.
Seven people were killed in Cagayan Valley, while the Ilocos Region, Central Luzon and Metro Manila accounted for one death each, a spokesman for the Philippine National Police, Sr. Supt Benigno Durana, said.
In Benguet alone, there were 33 deaths mostly caused by landslides in Itogon mining site in barangays Ucab, Dampingan, and Loacan.
CAR Police Regional Director Chief Supt Rolando Nana said the victims were mostly miners who were pinned underneath large chunks of mud after their bunker was swept away by cascading water brought about by Ompong’s torrential rains.
The PNP said there were 16 people missing—eight of them in Benguet who were buried in a mudslide. Rescue efforts were hampered by continued rain.
“Rescuers are having a hard time accessing the site,” Nana said.
A total of 25,953 families or 182,9977 individuals remained in 9,264 evacuation centers spread along Ompong’s path of destruction while 1,828 communities were without power due to fallen power poles.
Ompong’s whipping winds has destroyed 1,964 houses, including 789 in Cagayan Valley, 587 in Central Luzon, 538 in the Cordilleras, and 26 in Metro Manila.
The PNP also reported that 122 major, secondary and tertiary roads remained impassable due to landslides, eroded flanks, fallen trees and electric poles.
Two days after, there were still no reports of damage to agriculture, especially to rice and corn crops. Farmers was forced to harvest their crops ahead of the typhoon.
President Rodrigo Duterte on Sunday thanked God that the impact of Ompong was “not so severe as expected” as he arrived in Cagayan to inspect the government’s operations in the Ompong-hit provinces.
“This is not really to minimize or maybe downgrade the damage but compared with what I have seen in the past, we thank God that this is what we have only suffered,” said Duterte in a briefing with Cabinet secretaries and several officials in the aftermath of Ompong.
“It was not as severe as we expected it to be. Because earlier it was touted that the storm was strong, so it got everybody worried,” said the President, adding he made the right decision to send some of the members of his Cabinet to monitor the situation in typhoon-affected provinces in Northern Luzon.
Duterte, who flew to Cagayan by helicopter, said he intends to continue inspecting the areas above the ground on onday.
“I may not be able to make the key rounds of all the areas we visited. I intend to do it or continue to do it tomorrow. I still have about a day I can spare to go around,” said Duterte, emphasizing that he would want to assure the people that the government is with them after the onslaught.
He expressed grief at the casualties.
“I share the grief of those who have lost their loved ones,” he said.
“In insurance, it is termed ‘an act of God.’ I don’t know how it can be an act of God, but that is the term used in insurance,” he said.
He said casualties were kept down by adequate preparation.
“Just like any other calamity or crisis that have visited the country, we are here to make the assessment and make the appropriate response, which is still a question of money. I hope that we can dig deep in our pockets to come up with something to mitigate or alleviate the situation,” Duterte said.
The Trade department said Sunday it has set up a command center in Manila to facilitate and ensure the continuous flow of basic necessities and prime commodities, especially to areas and provinces affected by Typhoon Ompong.
Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez said the command center is linked with regional directors and with local distributors and stocks ready from Manila and possible transfers from other distributors in Region 3 and 4 to provide immediate support for Regions 1 and 2.
The Trade department is also assisting the Agriculture department to increase consumer access to affordable rice.
“We asked the Supermarket Amalgamated Supermarket Association, Inc. to be outlets of NFA rice so we have additional access to affordable rice. They will pick up from NFA warehouses. NFA deputy administrator Judy Dansal agreed to this,” Lopez said.
The Trade department also asked NFA to require rice retailers to always sell regular rice at P38 per kilogram and well milled at P40/kg. Those who will not conform will face higher penalties or a cancellation of their license.
The Department of Labor and Employment, meanwhile, said it is ready to provide emergency employment to workers affected by Typhoon Ompong.
Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said Saturday assessments are ongoing in areas affected by the typhoon that hit Northern Luzon, particularly the provinces of Cagayan and Isabela.
He also urged the families of overseas workers affected by the typhoon to proceed to the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) in their respective regions and apply for financial assistance.
OWWA Administrator Hans Cacdac said they will provide calamity assistance to the families of overseas workers from areas hit by the typhoon.
“We are just coordinating with NDRRMC [National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council] for the worst-hit areas. But definitely, we will have a complete list of the worst-hit areas. We will provide calamity assistanceto OFW families,” Cacdac said.
Senator Grace Poe on Sunday called on the government to rush calamity funds to Cagayan Valley, which ranks first in corn production and second in palay, and which is considered the cereal bowl that feeds he nation.
Poe said ensuring that the region will be able to replant, rebuild and restore its farm output and facilities must be treated as a “national food security priority.”
“One-fourth of the corn we produce, and one-seventh of the national palay we harvest come from the Cagayan Valley,” Poe said.
Poe said portion of P19.6-billion calamity fund, officially called the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Fund in the 2018 national budget, should also be released immediately to the other two regions pummeled by Ompong–Cordillera and Ilocos.
“If you combine the agricultural area of the three regions which is about 835,012 hectares, then you are talking about a substantial area critical to our food supply, and which gives livelihood to millions of farmers,” Poe said.
“If Cagayan, Ilocos and Cordillera do not plant, the nation goes hungry,” Poe added.
She said a rehabilitation of the farms, including farm infrastructure like roads and irrigation, in the three Northern Luzon regions is needed as it comes at a time when prices of food are rising.
In addition to the P19.6 billion NDRRMC fund, government should also tap some P7.6 billion disaster Quick Response Fund which is distributed to 10 agencies.
“These funds are already parked with the agencies, and some should have been pre-deployed to regions,” Poe said.
Also on Sunday, Save the Children Philippines, a non-government organization, said it is sending two more humanitarian teams to typhoon-ravaged towns in Northern Luzon to assess the situation and deliver emergency kits to thousand of families.
“We expect the devastation is extensive and prolonged, knowing that many of the affected families are poor farmers who will no longer be able to harvest crops due to massive flooding,” said Save the Children chief executive Albert Muyot.
Save the Children humanitarian teams will closely coordinate with local and national government agencies to distribute emergency kits such as household kits, hygiene kits as well as plastic sheets for temporary shelter, he said. With AFP and PNA
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