The death toll from landslides and flooding in the Philippines triggered by tropical storm Agaton (international name Megi) rose to 133 on Thursday, official figures showed, as more bodies were found in mud-caked villages.
Scores of people are still missing and feared dead after the strongest storm to strike the archipelago nation this year dumped heavy rain over several days, forcing tens of thousands into evacuation centers.
About 114 casualties were from Baybay City, 81, with 59 identified and 22 for identification; Abuyog, 32, with 30 identified and two for identification; and one in Motiong, Samar.
In Baybay alone, five persons had remained missing, including 28-year-old Adrian Paulo Tulin, the son of Visayas State University President, who was swimming on a beach in Barangay Guadalupe on April 10, when Agaton intensified and triggered flooding in the region.
The total number of injured persons was 236, with 106 in Baybay, 128 in Abuyog, and two in Dulag.
Lieutenant Colonel Ma. Bella Rentuaya, the police regional spokesperson, said 589 personnel were deployed for search, rescue, and retrieval operations while 1,580 were on standby.
Aside from police personnel, the Philippine Coast Guard, Philippine Army, Bureau of Fire Protection, Office of Civil Defense, Department of Public Works and Highways, local disaster agencies, and volunteer groups have also deployed teams for the search and retrieval operations in the affected towns.
As of Thursday morning, 52 evacuation centers were occupied by 6,555 individuals or 1,550 families, mainly in the hardest-hit villages of Baybay and Abuyog.
The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) in the region said they sent teams of social workers to Abuyog and Baybay as part of the technical assistance to the municipalities affected by typhoon Agaton.
The social workers assisted in conducting camp coordination, camp management, and internally displaced persons protection in the evacuation centers.
“Aside from this, social workers also set up child and women-friendly spaces and conducted Psychological First Aid or counseling for evacuees who were traumatized due to the storm,” the DSWD said on Thursday.
The agency also loaded additional family food packs for towns affected by Agaton, including 500 initial releases for Mahaplag and 1,447 other family food packs for Abuyog.
The family food packs contained six kilos of rice, four cans of corned beef, two cans of tuna flakes, two cans of sardines, five sachets of coffee, and five sachets of energy cereal drinks, which is enough for two to three days for a family of five.
Based on the information released by Police Regional Office-Eastern Visayas, 41 areas have remained flooded, while 192 were without electricity and 36 were without cellular communication signals.
Authorities said 1,266 persons were rescued, while no looting was reported in the affected areas.
In its latest road advisory, DPWH said Barangay Mailhi in Baybay, where 14 people died due to a landslide, is now one-lane passable.
Commercial flights in the region have also resumed, while no more ships, vehicles, and passengers were stranded in ports and terminals across the region, As of Thursday.
In the central province of Leyte — the worst affected by Megi — devastating landslides smashed farming and fishing communities, wiping out houses and transforming the landscape.
The disaster-prone region is regularly ravaged by storms — including a direct hit from Super Typhoon Haiyan in 2013 — with scientists warning they are becoming more powerful as the world gets warmer because of climate change.
Emergency personnel in Abuyog municipality have retrieved dozens of bodies from the coastal village of Pilar, which was destroyed by a landslide on Tuesday.
At least 42 people died in landslides that hit three villages in the municipality, police said. Another person drowned.
Most of those deaths were in Pilar, with at least 28 bodies brought by boat to a sandy lot near the municipal government building after roads leading to the settlement were cut off by landslides.
More than 100 remained missing, and Abuyog Mayor Lemuel Traya told AFP there was little hope of finding anyone else alive.
An aerial photo showed a wide stretch of mud and earth that had swept down a mountain to the sea, crushing everything in its path.
The wreckage of houses and debris were scattered along the shore.
Bad weather and thick mud had complicated retrieval efforts in Pilar, where the ground was unstable. Searchers were also combing the coastline after some bodies were swept kilometers away by ocean currents.
“This will not end soon, it could go on for days,” Traya warned.
Many of those who died had hiked to higher ground to avoid flash floods, villagers told AFP.
“It sounded like a helicopter,” said Pilar councilor Anacleta Canuto, 44, describing the noise made by the landslide.
Canuto, her husband and their two children survived, but they lost at least nine relatives.
Pilar fisherman Santiago Dahonog, 38, said he rushed into the sea with two siblings and a nephew as the landslide hurtled towards them.
“We got out of the house, ran to the water and started swimming,” he told AFP. “I was the only survivor.”
Scores missing in Baybay
Another 86 people were killed, and dozens injured in vegetable, rice and coconut-growing villages around Baybay City at the weekend, local authorities said. At least 117 are still missing.
The hardest hit was Kantagnos, where 32 people died and 103 have not been found.
In the nearby village of Bunga, 17 people perished when sodden soil shot down a hill and slammed into the riverside community. Only a few rooftops are visible in the mud, which has started to smell of rotting flesh.
Three people also drowned on the main southern island of Mindanao, and one person died in the central province of Iloilo, the national disaster agency said in its latest update.
Another three deaths previously reported in the central province of Negros Oriental were dropped from the tally after they were found to be unrelated to the storm.
Megi struck at the beginning of Holy Week, one of the most important holidays in the mainly Catholic nation, when thousands travel to visit relatives.
It came four months after a super typhoon devastated swathes of the country, killing more than 400 and leaving hundreds of thousands homeless.
The Philippines — ranked among the most vulnerable nations to the impacts of climate change — is hit by an average of 20 storms every year. With AFP