A powerful typhoon has left at least 31 people dead, knocked down power and communications in entire provinces and wrought widespread destruction mostly in the central Philippines, officials said.
Typhoon Rai blew away on Friday night into the South China Sea after rampaging through southern and central island provinces, where more than 300,000 people in its path were evacuated to safety in a pre-emptive move officials say may have saved a lot of lives.
At its strongest, Rai packed sustained winds of 195kph (121mph) and gusts of up to 270kph (168 mph), one of the most powerful in recent years to hit the disaster-prone south-east Asian archipelago, which lies between the Pacific Ocean and the South China Sea.
The typhoon slammed into the country’s south-eastern coast on Thursday but the extent of casualties and destruction remained unclear two days after with entire provinces still without power and mobile phone connection.
The government’s main disaster response agency said at least 31 people had been reported killed, many after being hit by falling trees, but it was validating most of the deaths.
Officials on the Dinagat Islands, one of the first provinces to be lashed by the typhoon, remained cut off on Saturday due to downed power and communication lines.
Its governor, Arlene Bag-ao, posted a statement on the province’s website to say the region of about 180,000 “has been levelled to the ground”.
She pleaded for food, water, temporary shelters, fuel, hygiene kits and medical supplies. She said only a few casualties have been reported in the capital so far because other towns remain isolated.
“We may have survived, but we cannot do the same in the coming days because of our limited capacities as an island province,” Ms Bag-ao said, adding that some of Dinagat’s hospitals could not open due to damage.
“Most of our commercial and cargo vessels… are now unsuitable for sea voyages, effectively cutting us off from the rest of the country.”
Vice governor Nilo Demerey reached a nearby province and told the DZMM radio network that at least six residents had died and “almost 95% of houses in Dinagat have no roof”, and even emergency shelters were destroyed.
“We’re currently doing repairs because even our evacuation centres were destroyed. There are no shelters, the churches, gymnasium, schools, public markets and even the capitol were all shattered,” Mr Demerey said.
Pictures posted on Dinagat’s website show low houses with roofs either blown off or damaged and surrounded by tin roof sheets and debris.
In central Bohol province, which was directly hit by the typhoon, the coastguard said its personnel on board rubber boats rescued residents who were trapped on roofs and trees, as waters rose rapidly.
With government contingency funds used for the coronavirus pandemic, President Rodrigo Duterte said he would look for money to help the provinces. He planned to visit the devastated region this weekend.
About 20 storms and typhoons batter the Philippines each year. The archipelago is located in the seismically active Pacific “Ring of Fire” region, making it one of the world’s most disaster-prone countries.