Typhoon Hagupit: death toll rises in Philippines

Hundreds of thousands return to their homes as evacuation plan spares nation worst of storm

Residents in a coastal town bearing the impact of Typhoon Hagupit move to higher ground, fearing storm surges. Video: Reuters

 

At least 21 people are reported dead in the main town of Eastern Samar in the Philippines where Typhoon Hagupit made first landfall, the Philippine National Red Cross has said.

“We have confirmed reports that 21 people died in Eastern Samar, 16 of them in Borongan,” said Gwendolyn Pang, secretary-general of the Philippine National Red Cross.

The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council in Manila confirmed only two dead and three injured.

Hundreds of thousands of Filipinos are returning to their homes today after a massive evacuation plan appeared to minimise fatalities.

The typhoon tore into the Philippines this weekend, causing landslides, pummelling houses and stirring up gusts of 170kph (106mph) across the country’s central islands.

The disaster-prone nation – which experiences up to 20 typhoons a year – was spared the extreme death and devastation of last year’s typhoon Haiyan, which killed over 6,000 people and displaced about 4 million, thanks to evacuation and national preparedness strategies that saw aid and government agencies deliver provisions and supplies ahead of the storm.

Hagupit, which is named “Ruby” in the Philippines, was the most powerful storm to hit the country this year. A category 3 typhoon when it made landfall on eastern Samar island on Saturday night – the same place last year’s typhoon Haiyan first struck – Hagupit is thought to have destroyed about 80 per cent of all the homes along some coastal areas, where it also washed away rice crops, Reuters reported.

One person in Dolores, eastern Samar, was killed by a falling coconut tree, while two others suffered hypothermia and died on Panay island on Saturday. The storm made a second landfall early Sunday and was expected to leave the Philippines’ vicinity by Wednesday or Thursday. Whereas the national government was criticised for its slow relief and debris-clearance efforts after Haiyan, this year military troops were on hand to help clear roads and the air force was on standby to help deliver aid or participate in rescue missions ahead of time, local media reported.

About 1.2 million people were evacuated to 1,500 centres across the central Philippines in advance of the storm. One evacuation centre on Samar island made headlines after 23-year-old Marilyn Ramonolos safely delivered a baby without power or a doctor, later naming her Ruby.

Relief efforts Relief agencies had stockpiled dry goods, bottled water, tarpaulins and blankets in preparation for the storm, with various aid groups on standby in location to help assess damage and assist in relief efforts.

Oxfam’s Philippines director said the government had learned its lessons from Haiyan in terms of disaster preparedness and, as a result, had been communicating with the public about what to expect and where to go. “The government has been issuing messages continuously around wind speeds and rainfall but also around storm surges and the likely areas and the likely heights, and that has helped people prepare better for such a typhoon,” Justin Morgan said.

A dozen countries have already pledged assistance to help the Philippines recover from the damage, among them the US, the UK, Australia, China and Japan. In an address prior to the storm’s first landfall on Saturday, President Benigno Aquino III asked the nation to stay focused and help one another despite their fatigue from natural disasters.

This year’s preparations made a huge difference in how people approached the typhoon warnings, as aid agencies reported “virtual parades” of people leaving their homes for evacuation centres, by foot, car and tricycle.

Hagupit was expected to make a third landfall on Sibuyan island, population 56,000, with gusts up to 170kph and a storm surge as high as 3m, early this morning. Agencies