NEW BATAAN, Compostela Valley (MindaNews / 5 Dec) – At least 110 persons died, 119 were initially recorded as injured and 243 more have been declared as missing a day after Super Typhoon Pablo brought flashfloods to this town.
Though the local disaster office has retrieved a total of 70 cadavers as of 12:45 p.m. Wednesday, other casualties are still being retrieved in different parts of the town as of this writing.
The storm devastated the town as it left knee-deep mud that covered the streets, public market and municipal plaza compound.
Most the structures in the public market and bus terminal were destroyed by the strong winds.
The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) placed the province under storm signal number three on Monday.
Hours after the landfall on Tuesday, New Bataan was isolated from the nearby municipalities of Compostela and Monkayo as the road was impassable until the afternoon due to fallen trees, rocks and mud.
Teresita Colinar, 59, told MindaNews that the muddy water rose so fast and they had to rush to a nearby concrete house for safety.
“The muddy water was not that high but the current was really strong, making it hard for most of us to move,” said Colinar.
She recounted that around 5a.m., they already noticed the moderate rains but the wind was strong.
Then they heard the trees creaking and some roofs being blown by the wind. “The wind was so strong we got worried that our house will be up in the air, too,” Colinar added.
She recalled that it was so dark even if it was already 7 a.m. When they heard the raging rocks and water, it was time for them to rush to their neighbor’s house.
Colinar said many in the neighborhood sought refuge in a three-story concrete house. “The house was filled with many families,” her daughter Jeaneth said.
The water rose three feet and raged for three hours, Jeaneth added.
Colinar said many of their neighbors were trapped in their houses and were not able to make it to safer grounds.
Colinar said this was the first time that a flashflood hit the town. “We only had rains, but the river hadn’t overflowed. We knew of the coming storm, but we didn’t expect it to cause so much damage,” she added.
Aida Cualing said that the raging muddy waters entered their house so fast.
Cualing, wife of a former mayor, said their house-help assisted her to evacuate to the municipal hall right across the street.
“The water was already waist-high when we crossed the street,” she added.
Like most residents here, Jeremy Cedric Balbin said it was the first time they experienced a flashflood.
The night before Typhoon Pablo made landfall in Baganga, Davao Oriental, Balbin said he prepared assorted food stocks in case the situation would worsen. “We stock up on food because we thought it would rain for days,” he added.
The 19-year-old college student recounted that they were stunned by the strong winds in the early morning that felled hundreds of coconut trees.
“We waited for about three hours for the water to subside then we rushed to the gym because we feared that the water would rise some more,” he recalled.
Balbin and his family are now staying in the municipal gymnasium, some 700 meters away, where some 300 families are now temporarily staying. Other evacuees are staying in nearby government buildings.
The old wooden gymnasium also serves as the medical station.
Rescue and retrieval continues
An Army captain, who requested not to be named, told MindaNews that the hardest-hit part in this town was Barangay Andap, which suffered the most casualties.
He said that among the initial fatalities were two Army sergeants while seven others are still missing after the flashflood hit the patrol base of an Army company belonging to the 66th Infantry Battalion.
Two other soldiers are set to be retrieved in Andap, said the captain who also assists in the disaster command post.
Aside from the Army, local disaster workers and volunteer rescue workers are deployed in different areas for the search and rescue missions.
Bodies of the victims, covered with sacks, were lined up beside the gymnasium for identification by relatives. Those already identified were placed in body bags and taken to the funeral parlor in Montevista.
But some cadavers, especially of children, were left open without cover underneath a tree in front of the gym.
Of the 70 cadavers retrieved, only half have already been identified as of press time. The oldest was 83-year-old Benjamin Bayacag and the youngest, Kyle Antiga, 4. Both are from Andap, a barangay that sits beside a river at the foot of the White Peak mountain range. It is about seven kilometers from the town proper.
As of this writing, the village is still isolated due to debris along the road, making it hard for the rescuers to reach the area. (Keith Bacongco / MindaNews)