MANILA – Severe Tropical Storm Nalgae slammed into the Philippines on Saturday, after unleashing flash floods and landslides that left at least 45 people dead and 18 missing.
Nalgae pounded the Philippines’ main island of Luzon with maximum winds of 95kmh after making landfall on the sparsely populated Catanduanes island before dawn.
Residents were evacuated from the capital Manila’s coastal area, while classes across all school levels were suspended. Manila Mayor Honey Lacuna-Pangan ordered the closure of the city’s cemeteries, where millions were expected to visit during the extended All Saints’ Day weekend, on Saturday.
Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr rebuked local civil defence officials in Mindanao over their preparations for the storm during a televised meeting Saturday.
“It will be important for us to look back and see why this happened. Why did we fail to evacuate them? Why do we have such a high casualty (figure)?“ he said.
He ordered the immediate distribution of drinking water and purifying systems to the province and other parts of the badly affected southern Philippines.
The state weather agency, in its latest bulletin, warned of widespread flooding and landslides because of heavy and, at times, torrential rains over the capital region and nearby provinces, as Nalgae cuts through Luzon and heads to the South China Sea.
Airlines have cancelled 116 domestic and international flights to and from the Philippines’ main gateway. Nearly 7,500 passengers, drivers and cargo helpers, and 107 vessels were stranded in ports, the coast guard said.
Heavy rains triggered by the approaching storm began on Thursday in the southern Philippines, inundating mostly rural areas in Mindanao, an island the size of South Korea.
That was followed by landslides and flooding, with fast-moving, debris-laden waters sweeping away entire families in some areas.
Emergency relief officials sharply revised the death toll downward on Saturday, saying only 45 people had been killed – correcting the earlier reported toll of 72.
Civil defence officials acknowledged rescue teams sent to the country’s flood-swamped south on Friday erred in their reporting, leading to some deaths being tallied twice.
National civil defence chief Rafaelito Alejandro confirmed the lower figure at a news conference in Manila, saying 40 bodies were recovered from the disaster in the southern region of Mindanao, and adding that five other people were killed elsewhere in the country.
“The local government of Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) overcounted,” Mr Alejandro explained, adding that the victims in Maguindanao mostly died in landslides and some in flooding.
He said 18 people were missing, including 15 from Maguindanao and three in Sultan Kudarat in the southern Philippines.
Mr Alejandro said Nalgae has affected almost 185,000 people in eight regions, and more than 8,000 are staying in temporary government shelters.
Rescuers are now focusing on the village of Kusiong, in Maguindanao province’s Datu Odin Sinsuat town, in Mindanao, where dozens of bodies were recovered on Friday after the floods hit.
In recent years, flash floods with mud and debris from largely deforested mountains have been among the deadliest hazards posed by typhoons in the Philippines.
The state weather service said Nalgae could hit the capital Manila.
“Based on our projections, this one is really strong so we really prepared for it,” Mr Alejandro said, adding that 5,000 rescue teams were on standby.
He urged residents in the storm’s path to stay at home.
More than 7,000 people were evacuated ahead of the landfall, the civil defence office said.
The coast guard has also suspended ferry services through most of the Philippines.
The storm struck at the beginning of a long weekend in the country, when millions return to their hometowns to visit the graves of their relatives.
Mr Marcos said aid response should be stepped up once Nalgae exits land areas - on Sunday morning, according to the latest forecasts.
“Let us not wait for the helicopters and air assets to fly. If the weather is not good, look for more ways to deliver relief goods, water and medicines,” he said.
The Philippines is hit by an average of 20 major storms each year that kill hundreds of people and keep vast regions in perpetual poverty.
Scientists have warned that such storms, which also kill livestock and destroy key infrastructure, are becoming more powerful as the world gets warmer because of climate change. AFP, REUTERS