The death toll from a powerful typhoon that ravaged the southern Philippines rose to 82 Wednesday, as rescuers battled to reach areas cut off in flash floods and mudslides.
Typhoon Bopha churned across the island of Mindanao, toppling trees and blowing away homes on Tuesday before weakening overnight as it headed towards the South China Sea.
It was however expected to dump more rain as it passes over the western island of Palawan on Wednesday morning, with the potential to wreak further destruction, officials said.
Interior Minister Mar Roxas said after an inspection visit to the storm-hit south that the confirmed death toll had risen from 52 to 82, with another 21 people missing.
There were 49 fatalities in a mudslide in the mountainous town of New Bataan alone, and another 33 died in rural settlements elsewhere in Mindanao.
Among the fatalities was a soldier who was part of a troop deployment sent to New Bataan in anticipation of the storm.
“It is quite sad and tragic. They were actually there to be ready to help our countrymen who may be in trouble,” Roxas said.
The military was scrambling helicopters and heavy equipment Wednesday to New Bataan, where rainwater had gushed down from nearby slopes, creating a deadly swirl of rainwater, logs and rocks that crushed everything in its path.
The narrow mountain pass leading to the town was littered with fallen trees and boulders, virtually cutting it off from traffic, said Major General Ariel Bernardo, commander of the 10th Infantry Division which covers Mindanao.
“We are hoping to fly our helicopters to conduct reconnaissance and search and recovery,” he said.
Parts of Mindanao remained without power and communications, with food and clean water in limited supply after Bopha carved a path of destruction.
“Three of our coastal municipalities remain isolated,” said Governor Corazon Malanyaon of Davao Oriental province on the eastern coast of the island where the storm made landfall.
“Roads to these towns remain impassable. There are many fallen trees and debris and the bridge going there had collapsed.”
She said rescuers were slowly trying to reach the stricken areas, using everything from heavy equipment to their bare hands and chain saws to clear the roads.
“It’s like we’re running an obstacle course,” she said on local radio.
Malanyaon said initial reports said that nearly every building in the agricultural town of Cateel, one of the three towns isolated in Davao Oriental, had been damaged.
“About 95 percent of the town centre’s structures including hospitals, private homes, private buildings had their roofs blown away,” she said.
Bernardo said the military was dispatching two companies to help in the search and rescue operations, but that it was also “a victim of the storm” after an army patrol base and a rescue truck were washed away in New Bataan.
“In one of our headquarters, no bunkers were left standing and all our communication equipment has been destroyed,’ he said.
Bopha made landfall on the eastern coast of Mindanao early Tuesday, bringing driving rain and strong winds that forced more than 56,000 to seek refuge in emergency shelters.
It was the sixteenth storm this year to ravage the Philippines, which is hit with about 20 cyclones annually.
In December last year Mindanao was pummelled by tropical storm Washi which killed more than 1,200 and left hundreds of thousands homeless.