By Erik de Castro
NEW BATAAN, Philippines, Dec 6 (Reuters) - Rescue workers searched on Thursday through thick mud, broken homes and fallen trees for survivors, two days after a typhoon swept the southern Philippines killing nearly 400 people and leaving at least as many missing.
Typhoon Bopha, with central winds of up to 120 kph (74 mph) and gusts of up to 150 kph (93 mph), was moving west-northwest of the central Philippines after ravaging the resource-rich island of Mindanao.
The National Disaster Agency put the death toll at 379 after Bopha triggered landslides and floods along the coast and in farming and mining towns inland in the provinces of Compostela Valley and Davao Oriental. The death toll is expected to rise.
Arturo “Arthur” Uy, governor of Compostela Valley, the worst-hit area, said estimates showed 200 had died and almost 600 remained missing in his province alone, higher than the agency’s tally.
“This is the first time a typhoon with signal number three has crossed our province,” he said. “We evacuated people from riverbanks and shorelines. But the floods and strong winds battered not just the riverbanks but also places where residents where supposed to be safe.”
About 20 typhoons hit the Philippines every year, often causing death and destruction. Almost exactly a year ago, Typhoon Washi killed 1,500 people in Mindanao, but most storms make landfall further north.
Uy said a village hall, health centre and covered court in New Bataan, where residents took shelter ahead of the typhoon, were washed away by floods and mud.
A few residents in Compostela Valley started repairing their houses, while housewives washed mud-drenched clothes and used fallen trees for cooking in makeshift stoves outside homes.
“I don’t know what to do now,” coconut farmer Roger Calarian told Reuters while waiting for rice at a relief centre in New Bataan town. “I lost my house, I lost my livelihood. I want to rebuild my hut but I don’t think I have the energy to do that now.”
Rescue volunteers lifted a 54-year-old man to safety after they found him in a tattered shirt with a fractured leg and bruises, clinging to a boulder by a river in New Bataan.
“I didn’t expect to see people survive two days after they were swept (away) by flood and mud,” fire volunteer Mark Roman Jumilla told Reuters. “For two days, he survived on coconut and water. He lost his family when floodwaters swept a temporary shelter area where he and his family sought refuge.”
Rescuers also found a pregnant woman on the other side of the river with her one-year son after escaping floods that swamped their house after the storm made landfall.
“It happened so fast. Water came rushing to us while we were leaving our house to move to safer ground,” Lenlen Medrano, 23, told Reuters as she was being carried by stretcher.
“I prayed hard over and over until we found ourselves on the riverbank.”
A Reuters photographer saw four bodies. The river’s current was strong, making it hard for rescue teams to reach other survivors.
The Geneva-based International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent made an urgent appeal for funds to help feed and provide shelter for 50,000 people on Mindanao.
Major-General Ariel Bernardo, an army division commander, said a navy ship was bringing food, water and relief goods to three coastal towns isolated by collapsed bridges and damaged roads.
The Communist Party of the Philippines issued a statement on Thursday, ordering Maoist guerrillas to suspend attacks on army units and help in the rescue and relief operations.
Foreign governments, including the United States, Japan and the European Union, offered help to displaced families. Nearly 200,000 are in shelter areas and most of those have lost their homes.