NEW BATAAN, Philippines (AFP) - A quarter million people were homeless and 477 confirmed dead after the Philippines’ worst typhoon this year, officials said Thursday, as the government appealed for international help.
Typhoon Bopha ploughed across Mindanao island on Tuesday, flattening whole towns in its path as hurricane-force winds brought torrential rain that triggered floods and landslides.
Erinea Cantilla and her family walked barefoot for two days in a vain search for food and shelter through a muddy wasteland near the mountainous town of New Bataan after the deluge destroyed their house and banana and cocoa farm.
“Everything we had is gone. The only ones left are dead people,” Cantilla told AFP as she and her husband, three children and a granddaughter reached the outskirts of the town, which itself had been nearly totally obliterated. Rescuers said they were looking for 380 missing while seeking help for more than 250,000 others who were sheltered in schools, gyms and other buildings after losing everything.
Shell-shocked survivors scrabbled through the rubble of their homes to find anything that could be recovered, as relatives searched for missing family members among mud-caked bodies laid out in rows on tarpaulins.
The Philippines urged UN climate negotiators in Doha on Thursday to learn from the deadly typhoon that struck the archipelago this week and wake up to the realities of global warming.
“I appeal to the whole world, I appeal to leaders from all over the world, to open our eyes to the stark reality that we face,” Filipino climate negotiator Naderev Sano told the yearly gathering of nearly 200 countries.
“An important backdrop for my delegation is the profound impacts of climate change that we are already confronting. As we sit here, every single hour, even as we vacillate and procrastinate here, the death toll is rising.”
President Benigno Aquino has sent food and other supplies by ship to 150,000 people on Mindanao’s east coast where three towns remain cut off by landslides and wrecked bridges, Interior Secretary Mar Roxas said.
Officials said many of the 477 dead victims were poor migrants who found work at landslide-prone sites such as New Bataan and nearby Monkayo towns, either at unregulated gold mines or at banana plantations. Bopha, flower in Cambodian, wiped out a fourth of the country’s banana crop, according to the local industry association.
Major-General Ariel Bernardo, head of the army division leading the rescue effort, said 36 people had been dug out alive in two days, but the prospects were looking dimmer for the hundreds still missing. “I do not think it likely,” he told AFP when asked if he thought most of the missing were still alive.
Civil defence chief Benito Ramos refused to give up hope. “There is no time limit - as long as it takes,” he told reporters when asked how long the search and rescue effort would take.
A man trapped for two days under rocks and debris after flash floods swept away his entire family was among those rescued Thursday. “It’s a miracle that I survived, but I might as well be dead,” said Carlos Agang, 54, who suffered a broken right leg.
Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman said the government asked the Switzerland-based International Organization for Migration to help it build bunkhouses to ease the pressure on evacuation camps.
The US, Japan and Singapore said they had offered emergency assistance, with the latter sending over a rescue team in Mindanao. Geneva-based International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies appealed for 4.5 million Swiss francs (3.7 million euros, $4.9 million) for relief aid, warning the number of people needing help would rise in coming days.
Meanwhile the insurgent Communist Party of the Philippines offered a truce with government forces now leading the rescue in Mindanao, while ordering its guerrillas there to help out.
The army dismissed the offer, with a military spokesman saying the rebels should abandon their armed campaign instead.
Workers were struggling to reach villages due to destroyed roads and wrecked bridges, but finding corpses was not a problem due to the overpowering stench everywhere, said Francisco Macalipay, a soldier involved in the rescue. “Just let your nose lead you to them,” he told AFP.