Typhoon Rai death toll reaches 375 in the Philippines

Scores of people are still missing while some villages remain cut off from assistance

The death toll from the strongest typhoon to hit the Philippines this year rose to more than 375 on Monday. Many of those who died were hit by falling trees or walls, drowned in flash floods or were buried alive in landslides.

Several central towns and provinces that are struggling with downed communications and power cuts are pleading for food and water, officials said.

The Philippine Red Cross reported "complete carnage" in coastal areas after Super Typhoon Rai left homes, hospitals and schools "ripped to shreds".

The death toll had been expected to rise because several towns and villages remained out of reach but a major clean-up and repair effort is under way amid improved weather.

A 57-year-old man was found dead hanging from a tree branch in Negros Occidental province and a woman was blown away by the wind and died in the same region, police said.

At its strongest, the typhoon brought sustained winds of 195 kilometres an hour and gusts of up to 270 kph before it blew out on Friday into the South China Sea.

Governor Arlene Bag-ao of the Dinagat Islands, which were among the south-eastern provinces first hit by the typhoon, said Rai’s ferocity in her island province of more than 130,000 was worse than that of Typhoon Haiyan.

The 2013 typhoon devastated the central Philippines but did not inflict any casualties in Dinagat.

“If it was like being in a washing machine before, this time there was like a huge monster that smashed itself everywhere, grabbed anything like trees and tin roofs and then hurled them everywhere,” Ms Bag-ao told the Associated Press.

“The wind was swirling north to south to east and west repeatedly for six hours. Some tin-roof sheets were blown away then were tossed back.”

An aerial shot of the destruction on the island of Bohol, the Philippines. EPA

At least 14 villagers died and more than 100 others were injured by flying tin roofs, debris and glass shards, Ms Bag-ao said. Many more would have died if thousands of residents had not been taken from high-risk villages before the typhoon arrived, she said.

Like several other typhoon-hit provinces, Dinagat remained without electricity and communications. Many residents needed construction materials, food and water.

Ms Bag-ao and other provincial officials travelled to nearby regions that had phone signals to seek aid and coordinate recovery efforts with the national government.

The Dinagat governor and other officials expressed concern that their provinces may run out of fuel, which was in high demand owing to the use of temporary power generators, including those used for refrigerated warehouses where large amounts of coronavirus vaccine stocks were stored.

Officials delivered vaccine shipments to many provinces for an intensified immunisation campaign, which was postponed last week because of the typhoon.

More than 700,000 people were affected by the typhoon in several central island provinces, including more than 400,000 who had to be moved to emergency shelters. Thousands of residents were rescued from flooded villages, including in Loboc town in hard-hit Bohol province, where residents were trapped on roofs and trees to escape from rising floodwaters.

Coast guard ships ferried 29 American, British, Canadian, Swiss, Russian, Chinese and other tourists who were stranded on Siargao Island, a popular surfing destination that was devastated by the typhoon, officials said.

Emergency crews were scrambling to restore electricity and mobile phone services in at least 227 cities and towns, officials said, adding that three regional airports were also damaged.

President Rodrigo Duterte flew to the region on Saturday and promised 2 billion pesos ($40 million) in aid. He met officials in Maasin City in Southern Leyte province where he was born. Mr Duterte’s family later moved to the southern city of Davao, where he served as mayor before rising to the presidency.

“The moment I was born into this world, I told my mother: 'Let’s not stay here because this place is really prone to typhoons,'" Mr Duterte told officials.

The Philippines – ranked as one of the world's most vulnerable countries to the impacts of climate change – is hit by an average of 20 storms and typhoons every year, which typically wipe out harvests, homes and infrastructure in already impoverished areas.

Updated: December 20, 2021, 12:58 PM