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December 09, 2012

Search, Recovery Continue After Philippines Typhoon

by Simone Orendain

Officials in the Philippines said help from the military, humanitarian agencies and local government is in full force in the southern island of Mindanao where a powerful typhoon killed at least 500 people and left millions reeling.  

The Civil Defense office said at least 5.4 million people have been affected by Typhoon Bopha, which tore through the south blowing houses to bits, covering entire towns in mud and destroying thousands of hectares of crops.The office said the typhoon has so far caused more than $150 million in damage to infrastructure and agriculture.

A United Nations Disaster and Assessment Team representative said the agency has conducted site visits to the worst-hit areas. In Compostela Valley, where the most deaths have been recorded due to landslides, Imogen Wall said people are not only dealing with losing their families and their homes.

“We stood to the side of the road and it was just broken, snapped off banana trees to the horizon, almost, which is really serious because this is a very [poor] area and it’s mostly dependent on farming," said Wall. "So that’s people’s livelihood and their capacity to put food on the tables for their families for a year, gone.”

Wall said the U.N. is preparing an appeal to help multiple humanitarian agencies that are seeing to food, shelter, water sanitation and power generation needs in the devastated areas.

On Sunday, the Civil Defense Office added the names of hundreds of missing people to a list that now tops 800. Civil Defense Chief Benito Ramos said most of them are fishermen who were in waters off the east coast of Mindanao.

He said all branches of the armed forces and police are working non-stop to retrieve bodies and, he hopes, survivors.

“And there are already plenty of volunteers coming from other responders like Metro Manila Development Authority [and] the provincial government,” said Ramos.

Ramos said five provinces are augmenting military efforts especially in the hardest to reach areas.  He said local governments are also sending coffins to the area.

Ramos said with the number of missing close to 1,000 he expects casualties from this storm to surpass last year’s Tropical Storm Washi in which more than 1,200 died, also in Mindanao.

Typhoon Bopha followed a boomerang-like path out of the country. The typhoon left the western-most Palawan province Wednesday and headed to the South China Sea, but it circled northeast and poured rain on the northern-most provinces of the Philippines. The state weather bureau said by then the storm had diminished to a tropical depression.  Ramos said it did not cause any damage.