Survivors of Typhoon Bopha mourn their dead

With hundreds dead and scores still missing, the aftermath of destructive storm leaves scenes of devastation in southern Philippines

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 06 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 06 December, 2012, 7:27am

Outside a gymnasium in the battered town of New Bataan, several mud-stained bodies lay side by side, covered by cloth and banana leaves and surrounded by villagers covering their noses to fight the stench. A man sprayed insecticide on the remains to turn away swarms of flies.

A day after Typhoon Bopha killed more than 270 people in the southern Philippines, survivors were left reeling from scenes of devastation, mourning the loss of whole families swept away, and searching for hundreds more who have yet to be found.

"It's hard so say how many more are missing," provincial spokeswoman Fe Maestre said. "We're now searching everywhere."

The coastal province of Davao Oriental was the first to be struck by the typhoon as it blew inland from the Pacific Ocean. At least 115 people perished, mostly in three towns that were so battered by the wind it was hard to find any building or house with a roof left, provincial officer Freddie Bendulo and other officials said.

"We had a problem where to take the evacuees. All the evacuation centres have lost their roofs," Davao Oriental Governor Corazon Malanyaon said.

Leaders who flew to the south to inspect the damage described scenes of utter carnage, with countless buildings ripped apart by the destructive winds.

"There are very few structures left standing in the town of Cateel," Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman and other officials said, referring to an isolated town sandwiched by mountains and the sea on Mindanao's east coast.

"We need to rush to these areas body bags, medicines, dry clothes and most importantly tents, because survivors are living out in the open after the typhoon blew away homes and rooftops."

The situation in New Bataan town was dire, she said.

"The bodies are left lying on the ground in the open in New Bataan and we don't want to risk the spread of disease," Soliman said.

The governor of the worst-hit province, Compostela Valley, said waves of water and mud came crashing down mountains and swept through schools, town halls and clinics where huddled residents had sought shelter.

"The waters came so suddenly and unexpectedly, and the winds were so fierce," said Compostela Valley governor Arthur Uy.

He said irrigation reservoirs on top of mountains had given way, sending large volumes of water down to the valleys.

Torrential rain often triggers landslides down slopes stripped of their forest cover.

Damage to agriculture and infrastructure in the province was extensive, Uy said.

Corn farmer Jerry Pampusa, 42, and his pregnant wife were marooned in their hut but survived.

"We were very scared," Pampusa said.

"We felt we were on an island because there was water everywhere."

One local resident, Francisco Alduiso, said dozens of women and children, who had taken shelter in a village centre, had been swept away.

"We found some of the bodies about 10 kilometres away," Alduiso said. The only building left standing in his village was the school.

Another survivor, Julius Julian Rebucas, said his mother and brother disappeared in a flash flood.

"I no longer have a family," a stunned Rebucas said.

It wasn't only civilians who were affected. Major General Ariel Bernardo, commander of an army division in New Bataan, said: "In one of our headquarters, no bunkers were left standing and all our communication equipment has been destroyed."

Agence France-Presse, Reuters, Associated Press