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In typhoon-hit Philippines, warnings were ignored

By Bullit Marquez

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, Dec. 6 2012 6:25 a.m. MST

"It's not possible to have no houses there because even the town center was hit. You mean to say the whole town will be abandoned?" Uy told the AP. He doubted the basis for classifying the area as dangerous and said he had urged the central government to review the hazard maps.

"Even when we have floods, the water would not spill over so much. People are wondering why there was such a huge volume of water," he said.

"We thought they would be safe there, but the volume of water was so huge," he said.

He said that residents sought shelter in the village hall, the health center and the covered court in an area that is elevated and was never flooded before this week. Most of the casualties occurred there.

Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, who visited New Bataan on Wednesday, saw the town covered in 15 centimeters (6 inches) of mud. He was told by townsfolk that a pond or a small lake atop the mountain collapsed, causing torrents of water to rampage like a waterfall.

"There is hardly any structure that is undamaged in New Bataan town," he said. "Entire families may have been washed away."

On Thursday, residents armed with hammers began to repair devastated homes and wash their muddy belongings, taking advantage of the sunny weather. A rescuer in orange overalls blew his whistle after seeing a hand protruding from a muddy heap of logs, rocks and debris, drawing a throng of army troops and volunteers armed with shovels and crowbars.

Four bodies were pulled out from the muck, including two children.

Dozens of people in search of missing relatives waited at a government information center, staring blankly at their devastated town. Authorities planned to display about 80 newly washed bodies in coffins at a Roman Catholic church Friday, hoping relatives could identify some of them.

The deaths came despite efforts by President Benigno Aquino III's government to force residents out of high-risk communities as the typhoon approached. Vice President Jejomar Binay on Thursday directed local executives, police and military officials not to allow those displaced to return to their homes in areas classified as danger zones. However, it wasn't clear how quickly and where substitute homes would be built.

After slamming into Davao Oriental and Compostela Valley with winds of 175 kilometers (109 miles) per hour and gusts of up to 210 kph (130 mph), Typhoon Bopha roared quickly across the southern Mindanao and central regions. On Thursday, the typhoon was over the South China Sea west of Palawan province, and forecasters said it may dissipate after two days due to a surge of cool and dry air.

Some 20 typhoons and storms lash the northern and central Philippines each year, but they rarely hit the vast southern Mindanao region. Sprawling export banana plantations have been in place there for decades because strong winds seldom topple trees.

Associated Press writers Jim Gomez, Teresa Cerojano, Oliver Teves and Hrvoje Hranjski in Manila contributed to this report.

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