Typhoon Rai kills 20 in the Philippines

Hundreds trapped by flooding as electrical problems and blocked roads hamper rescue efforts

At least twenty people were killed as a strong typhoon struck the Philippines on Thursday and the early hours of Friday, causing villages to flood and knocking out power lines.

More than 300,000 people fled to safety before the storm made landfall on the country’s south-east coast. It remained destructive with sustained winds of 155 kilometres per hour and gusts of up to 215kph as it swept west towards Palawan province before moving into the South China Sea, meteorologists said.

Officials were assessing the extent of the damage and casualties wrought by one of the strongest typhoons to hit the country in recent years, but said efforts were hampered by widespread power failures, downed communications and roads clogged with fallen trees and debris.

Witnesses described ferocious winds that ripped off roofs and forced down trees, while others experienced severe flooding that trapped residents on their roofs.

“I have never experienced such ferocity of the wind in my life and we were not even directly hit,” Mayor Jerry Trenas of central Iloilo city told The Associated Press. He said that at least one resident was killed when she was hit by a cluster of bamboo blown down by the storm.

Workers were clearing roads in the coastal city of nearly half a million people, which was without power and struggling with erratic cell phone signals, he said.

Two other people died in southern Bukidnon province, where a falling tree killed one resident and injured another, and in Surigao city, where a man died after being hit by debris, officials said.

Officials were expected to confirm at least two other typhoon-related deaths in central Guimaras province.

In central Bohol province, which was directly hit by the typhoon, Governor Arthur Yap said many residents were trapped on their roofs by floodwater for a second day in the riverside town of Loboc, where his own house was swamped by water up to the second floor. Mr Yap pleaded for volunteers from other regions to help save residents, saying he and other officials were struggling to find a way to get rescue boats to Loboc.

“Hundreds of families are trapped on the rooftops right now,” Mr Yap told DZBB radio. He said residents were exposed to rain and wind overnight. “We need first responders. What’s important now is to save lives.”

It was unclear what happened in other towns in the hard-hit province, which still had no electricity, Mr Yap said.

Coast guard personnel rescued residents trapped in chest-deep waters on Thursday in a southern province, where torrential rains swamped villages. In Cagayan de Oro city, footage showed two rescuers struggling to keep a month-old baby in a laundry basin above the water and shield it from the wind and rain with an umbrella.

Presidential spokesman Karlo Nograles said more than 332,000 people were moved when high-risk villages were evacuated as the typhoon approached from the Pacific Ocean, including nearly 15,000 who were taken to evacuation centres. Crowding in those centres complicated efforts to keep people safely distanced after authorities detected the country’s first infections caused by the Omicron variant of the coronavirus. Vaccination campaigns were also halted in provinces affected by the typhoon.

The coast guard directed all vessels in dozens of ports affected by stormy weather not to venture out, stranding more than 4,500 passengers and ferry and cargo ship workers. An international airport in Cebu province was closed and several mostly domestic flights were cancelled while schools and workplaces were shut in the most vulnerable areas, Mr Nograles said.

At least 62 cities and towns either lost power entirely or were experiencing disruptions to their electricity services.

About 20 storms and typhoons batter the Philippines each year. The archipelago lies in the seismically active Pacific Ring of Fire region, making it one of the world’s most disaster-prone countries.

Updated: December 18th 2021, 6:03 AM