Death toll from Philippine landslides, floods rises to 58: Official tallies
BAYBAY (AFP) - The death toll from landslides and floods in the Philippines rose to 58 on Wednesday (April 13), official tallies showed, as rescuers dug up more bodies with their bare hands in villages crushed by rain-induced avalanches of mud and earth.
Most of the deaths from tropical storm Megi - the strongest to hit the archipelago nation this year - were in villages around Baybay City, in the central province of Leyte.
More than 17,000 people fled their homes as the storm pummelled the disaster-prone region in recent days, flooding houses, severing roads and knocking out power. Just over 100 people were injured.
"It's supposed to be the dry season but maybe climate change has upended that," said Marissa Miguel Cano, public information officer for Baybay City, where 10 villages have been affected by landslides. Cano said the hilly region of corn, rice and coconut farms was prone to landslides, but they were usually small and not fatal.
Apple Sheena Bayno was forced to flee after her house in Baybay City flooded. She said her family was still recovering from a super typhoon in December. "We're still fixing our house and yet it's being hit again so I was getting anxious," she told AFP.
Rescue efforts were also focused on the nearby village of Kantagnos, which an official said had been hit by two landslides. "There was a small landslide and some people were able to run to safety, and then a big one followed which covered the entire village," Baybay City Mayor Jose Carlos Cari told local broadcaster DZMM Teleradyo.
Some residents managed to escape or were pulled out of the mud alive, but many are still feared trapped. A Philippine Coast Guard video on Facebook showed six rescuers carrying a mud-caked woman on a stretcher. Other victims have been piggybacked to safety.
Four people have been confirmed dead in Kantagnos, but it is not clear how many are still missing. "We're looking for many people, there are 210 households there," said the Baybay City mayor.
Direct hit on homes
The military has joined coast guard, police and fire protection personnel in the search and rescue efforts. But bad weather has hampered the response. The search was suspended late on Tuesday afternoon as it was "too dangerous" to continue in the dark, Cano said.
National disaster agency spokesman Mark Timbal said landslides around Baybay City had reached settlements "outside the danger zone", catching many residents by surprise. "There were people in their homes that were hit directly by the landslide," Timbal told AFP.
Tropical storm Megi - known in the Philippines by its local name Agaton - is the first major storm to hit the country this year. Whipping up seas, it forced dozens of ports to suspend operations and stranded more than 9,000 people at the start of Holy Week, one of the busiest travel periods of the year in the mostly Catholic country.
The storm comes four months after super typhoon Rai devastated swathes of the archipelago nation, killing more than 400 people and leaving hundreds of thousands homeless. Scientists have long warned typhoons are strengthening more rapidly as the world becomes warmer due to climate change.
The Philippines - ranked among the most vulnerable nations to its impacts - is hit by an average of 20 storms every year.