MANILA, Philippines (AP) – A powerful typhoon killed at least 31 people, cut electricity and communications in entire provinces and caused widespread destruction, mainly in the central Philippines, officials said on Saturday. A governor said his island had been “leveled to the ground”.
Typhoon Rai blew into the South China Sea on Friday evening after unleashing the southern and central island provinces, where more than 300,000 people in its path were evacuated to safety in advance as part of a preventive operation, officials said, which could have saved many lives.
At its strongest, Rai blew sustained winds of 195 kilometers (121 miles) per hour and gusts of up to 270 km / h (168 mph), one of the strongest in recent years to hit the disaster-prone archipelago in Southeast Asia, which lies between the Pacific Ocean and the South China Sea. The typhoon hit the southeastern coast of the country on Thursday, but the extent of casualties and destruction remained uncertain two days later, with entire provinces still lacking electricity and telephone connections.
The government’s main disaster response agency said at least 31 people were believed to have been killed, many after being affected by fallen trees, but added that it validated most of the deaths. At least three were injured and one is missing.
Authorities in the Dinagat Islands, one of the first provinces to be hit by the fierce winds of the typhoon, were cut off on Saturday due to the failure of power and communication lines. But its governor, Arlene Bag-ao, managed to publish a statement on the province’s website to say that the island of about 180,000 people “has been razed”. She pleaded for food, water, temporary shelter, fuel, hygiene kits and medical supplies. She said only a few casualties have been reported in the capital so far as other towns remain isolated.
“We may have survived, but we cannot do the same in the next few days due to our limited capacities as an island province,” Bag-ao said, adding that some of the hospitals in Dinagat did not have could open due to damage. “Most of our commercial and cargo ships (…) are now unsuitable for sea travel, which effectively cuts us off from the rest of the country. “
Vice Governor Nilo Demerey managed to reach a neighboring province and told DZMM radio that at least six residents have died and that “nearly 95% of the houses in Dinagat have no roofs”, and even emergency shelters were destroyed.
“We are currently carrying out repairs because even our evacuation centers have been destroyed. There are no shelters, the churches, the gymnasium, schools, public markets and even the capital have all been destroyed, ”said Demerey.
Images posted on Dinagat’s website show low-slung houses with torn or damaged roofs and surrounded by roof sheets and debris. The neighboring island of Siargao, known as the surfing capital of the Philippines, was also hit by the typhoon.
In central Bohol province, which was directly affected by the typhoon, the coastguard said their staff in rubber dinghies rescued residents stranded on rooftops and trees as the waters rose rapidly. He posted footage showing coastguard personnel helping people from the roof of a house nearly engulfed in brownish floodwater to an inflatable boat. They also help a villager descend from a tree above the floodwaters while another man, also dressed in an orange life jacket, waits his turn.
With government contingency funds being used for the coronavirus pandemic, President Rodrigo Duterte said he would seek money to help provinces. He planned to visit the devastated region this weekend.
About 20 storms and typhoons hit the Philippines each year. The archipelago is located in the seismically active “Ring of Fire” region of the Pacific, making it one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world.
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