Hundreds dead, devastation everywhere as Philippines assesses typhoon damage

At least 211 have died, according to police reports. That toll could still rise as dozens remain missing. PHOTO: AFP

MANILA - With the weather clearing and rescue and relief efforts finally underway, the scale of the devastation wrought by a powerful typhoon in the Philippines has come into sharper focus.

"We are still assessing the damage, but it is huge as per initial report: entire communities levelled to the ground; no electricity, water and food," Defence Minister Delfin Lorenzana, who heads the national disaster-relief agency, told reporters on Monday (Dec 20).

At least 375 have died, according to police reports. That toll could still rise as dozens remain missing. Most of those who died - close to 100 - were in Bohol, an island province that is a popular tourist spot.

Large swathes of central Philippines were battered, leaving hundreds of thousands without homes, and millions without electricity and mobile signals, surviving only on limited food and water.

The Coast Guard reported on Monday that it evacuated at least 29 tourists in the popular island resort of Siargao, including a Singaporean. All are now safe, it said.

Singaporeans, meanwhile, have started mobilising efforts to send help to the victims.

Typhoon Rai, known as Odette under the Philippines' naming system, tore through the country last Thursday with gusts of up to 290kmh. It was the 15th typhoon to hit the country this year.

It made eight landfalls, as it swept across densely populated islands in the Visayas and Mindanao, the central and southern parts of the Philippines.

Bohol, which is more than five times the size of Singapore with a population of some 1.3 million, is one of the hardest hit.

It had suffered a "great and all-encompassing" loss, said provincial governor Arthur Yap.

At least three towns had sent urgent calls for food and water. One mayor said only a quarter of the houses in his northern town were still standing.

Elsewhere, there were scenes of upended boats, levelled houses and trees, and many more reminiscent of the destruction left behind by super typhoon Haiyan in 2013.

Haiyan, the most powerful storm on record in the Philippines, left over 6,500 dead and triggered 7m high storm surges that swept an entire city and destroyed many coastal towns.

Rai, apart from its hurricane-level winds, also brought heavy rain and triggered 4m storm surges.

Siargao island, with its population of close to 200,000, was "totally devastated", said Surigao del Norte Governor Francis Matugas.

Siargao was still cut off as at Monday, but there had been calls for food, water, medical supplies and temporary shelters from officials who went there.

Residents gather their belongings on the side of a road on Siargao island after their houses were destroyed, on Dec 19, 2021. PHOTO: AFP

Looting had been reported, and many were suffering from dehydration. People had been seen on social media putting up signs with the words, "Gutom na po." (We're already hungry.)

Vice-President Leni Robredo asked airlines to send more flights to Siargao so that more aid could be delivered and more tourists could be flown out.

In Dinagat, another badly hit island province, food was running out.

"Dinagat badly needs our help… There's almost nothing standing, and they're running out of food," said Ms Robredo.

A government building in Dinagat damaged after Typhoon Rai hit the island province. PHOTO: AFP

President Rodrigo Duterte went to Bohol and Siargao, and promised officials there that they could expect some 2 billion pesos (S$55 million) in aid.

Ms Robredo had also been to Cebu province, central Philippines' main gateway, where she said she saw "devastation everywhere".

Answering the calls for help, Singaporean Tracy Tang, 35, has solicited some 1,500 foiled blankets and over 100 water filter kits from Novatech Resources that she hopes to send to Cebu and Siargao this week.

"Each filter can clean 100,000 gallons of water," she said, adding that she hopes to get 25 more.

Ms Tang had lived and worked in Cebu as a film-maker for six years. She now works for an info-tech company in Singapore.

Residents gather next to their destroyed house in Carcar, Cebu province, on Dec 18, 2021. PHOTO: AFP

Singapore Red Cross, meanwhile, is providing some US$50,000 (S$68,000) in aid to typhoon victims.

It is also coordinating with its Philippine affiliate to help it distribute water, rice and grocery items to at least six communities.

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