| Landslides, floods isolate Northern Luzon; 125 dead
| Friday, October 9, 2009
|DAGUPAN, Pangasinan - At least 125 people were killed by landslides and floods that have isolated northern Luzon from Manila following a week of rains spawned by one of the most destructive tropical cyclones to hit the Philippines, officials said Friday.
Tropical depression “Pepeng," which has made three landfalls since Oct. 3, continued to bring rains over northern Philippines on Friday, causing widespread flooding in several provinces.
The latest calamity brought the death toll to 462 from the Philippines' worst flooding in 40 years as back-to-back storms pounded the country's north in the past two weeks.
The figure includes 337 confirmed deaths from tropical storm “Ondoy," which caused widespread flooding in Metro Manila and the nearby provinces of Rizal, Bulacan, Laguna and Cavite on Sept. 26.
Thousands of residents fled to rooftops and scrambled for safety after dams released excess water from continuous heavy rain.
Pangasinan provincial Vice Gov. Marlyn Primicias said she was getting frantic text messages from residents asking to be rescued, adding: "Eastern Pangasinan has become one big river."
Gov. Amado Espino Jr. said roads linking Pangasinan to Metro Manila were rendered impassable by vehicles, effectively isolating the entire Ilocos Region from central Luzon and the national capital.
Heavy rains, plus water discharged late Thursday night from a dam in Pangasinan, inundated 30 out of 46 towns along the Agno River in the coastal province, said Boots Velasco, the province's information officer.
"There was really heavy rain, so water had to be released from the dam, otherwise it would have been more dangerous," said the government's chief forecaster Nathaniel Cruz. "Even our office was flooded and our staff had to move to the rooftop. It's near the river that they were monitoring."
With flood waters entering homes with the suddenness familiar to many Ondoy victims in Metro Manila, local authorities had little time to prepare for rescue and evacuation. The safest and driest place in Dagupan, Pangasinan's largest city, seems to be the indoor sports stadium here, the Fernandez Sports Complex (formerly known as Dagupan Astrodome), where nearly 400 evacuees including several infants were taken by local authorities.
But electricity is out in much of the city, including this venue. While the evacuees were given rice, there are no cooking facilities. "Kelangan din dito tubig kasi walang mainom (ang) mga bata. meron kagabi pero isang galon lang," said Sally Berot, 22, who is here with her husband and three small children.
Mayor Nonato Abrenica of the Pangasinan's Villasis towns said rain and water released from a nearby dam caused floods to rise quickly, isolating his town. He asked for food, water and medicines to be airlifted and for boats to rescue stranded residents.
Heavy army trucks could not penetrate the area, and Primicias appealed for helicopters and boats to move people out of danger.
The flooding in Pangasinan prompted the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC) to ask the US Embassy to redeploy hundreds of American troops from the massive cleanup in and around Manila to the flood-hit areas in the north.
Two US Navy ships took positions in the Lingayen Gulf in Pangasinan to provide helicopters and rubber boats for the rescue mission in the province, said US Marine Capt. Jorge Escatell.
While Pangasinan struggled with floods, the Cordillera and Cagayan Valley regions battled landslides that were all over mountains roads.
The Cagayan Valley, one of the biggest sources of rice and corn supply for the country, was cut off from the rest of Luzon due to massive landslides along Maharlika Highway in the Caraballo Mountains.
According to Chief Supt. Roberto Damian, regional police director for Cagayan Valley, a big portion of the two-lane highway near Putlan Bridge leading to Dalton Pass on the side of Carranglan, Nueva Ecija has been washed out.
Central Luzon police regional director Leonilo dela Cruz said the landslides in Carranglan "were so enormous" that it would take them three days to clean up the area, which remains impassable even to heavy vehicles.
All roads leading to the mountain city of Baguio in the heart of the Cordillera region were blocked by landslides. Relief official Rex Manuel said about 100 landslides have struck the region since the weekend.
Cordillera police regional director Senior Superintendent Fidel Posadas said Baguio City was cut off from other parts of Luzon as three main roads leading to the resort city - Kennon Road, Naguilian Road and Marcos Highway - were closed. He said the Department of Public Works and Highways was working overtime to clear the roads.
The rest of the Cordilleras - Mountain Provinces, Ifugao, Abra, Apayao and Kalinga - were also isolated from other provinces, Posadas said.
Buried in mud
Of the 125 confirmed fatalities from Pepeng, 118 were from the Cordillera Administrative Region, said regional police director Chief Superintendent Orlando Pestaño. He said 59 people remained missing in the region and 55 were injured.
enior Superintendent Loreto Espineli, Benguet provincial police chief, said the hardest hit in Benguet was the capital town of La Trinidad, where 41 people were killed from four villages.
Seventeen bodies have been recovered so far from Kibungan village also in La Trinidad, which was almost entirely buried in mud and debris late Thursday, Manuel said.
In Buyagan village, also in La Trinidad, only three out of some 100 houses remained visible after Thursday night's landslide buried most structures there. Some 50 residents were saved but it was not clear how many died, Manuel said.
Several other deaths were reported in Benguet, including two in Bugias town, four in Mankayan town on Thursday night, and six people in Tublay town. A worker at the provincial engineering office also reportedly died in an accident while assisting in the clearing operations.
In neighboring Mountain Province, at least 28 people were reported buried when the side of a mountain collapsed in Sitio Bulala, Kayan East village in Tadian, on Friday. Only five bodies were recovered so far. Another landslide hit a second village in Tadian early Friday but no immediate casualty reports were available, officials said.
More deaths expected
Espineli said the death toll is expected to go higher as dozens more people were reported missing and believed to have been buried in landslides. Only four people have so far been pulled out of the rubble alive.
Benguet Gov. Nestor Fongwan said rescue operations were hindered by bad weather.
"Nahirapan sila, medyo malakas ang ulan (at) very foggy pa rito. Mahirap ang retrieval operations (Workers are having a hard time in retrieval operations because of the heavy rains and fog)," Fongwan said in an interview on dzBB radio.
Fongwan said the local government was focusing its effort on clearing major roads filled with boulders and mud to allow the transport of agricultural products from Benguet to Metro Manila.
Fongwan said both evacuees and rescuers needed food, clothes, and medicines. But he advised rescuers against traveling by air to reach Benguet. "Aircraft can land but it's very risky because it's foggy. Roads need to be reopened)," he said.
Cagayan and Ilocos
Melcito Castro of the Office of the Civil Defense in Cagayan Valley said there was heavy damage to agriculture and roads from Pepeng’s strong winds on Oct. 3. The cyclone also destroyed 1,135 houses.
“But today, we are having a sunny weather, the first time since Pepeng visited the country," he said on Friday. Castro said of the 620 families that were brought to evacuation centers, only 194 remain.
In the Ilocos Region, Eugene Cabrera of the regional disaster coordinating council said his office is still confirming reports that seven people were killed in two landslides in the cities of San Fernando and Bauang, both in La Union.
Cabrera said communication through land lines in the region is down, and rescue officials only coordinate through mobile phones.
On Friday, weather forecasters said Pepeng still lingered off the northeastern coast of Luzon.
Pepeng (international code name: Parma) swept into Cagayan province from the Pacific Ocean as a powerful typhoon with maximum sustained winds of 175 kilometers per hour. It exited into the South China Sea after crossing the Ilocos Region the next day, but returned Wednesday after being pulled back by typhoon Quedan (Melor) that followed in its wake.
It exited to the west shortly, only to return to northern Luzon on Thursday. It was estimated by the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Administration (Pagasa) to finally leave the country on Saturday night. - With reports from Floro Taguinod, Mark Meruenas, and Aie Balagtas See, GMANews.TV, and AP
|posted by Moderator Londen time 1:10 PM