Rescuers are digging through mud and debris to retrieve more bodies strewn across a farming valley in the southern Philippines by a powerful typhoon, as the death toll from the storm passed 500.
More than 400 people are still missing after Typhoon Bopha struck on Tuesday, with Compostela Valley and Davao Oriental provinces hardest hit along with six other regions.
Over 310,000 have lost their homes and are crowded inside evacuation centres or staying with families, relying on food and emergency supplies being rushed in by government agencies and aid groups.
President Benigno Aquino III today visited New Bataan town, ground zero of the disaster, saying: “I want to know how this tragedy happened and how to prevent a repeat.”
Mr Aquino told residents he is seeking answers to improve conditions and minimise casualties when natural disasters occur.
At least 200 died in Compostela Valley alone, including 78 villagers and soldiers caught in a flash flood that swamped two emergency shelters and a military camp.
“Entire families may have been washed away,” said interior secretary Mar Roxas, who visited New Bataan earlier this week. The farming town of 45,000 people was a muddy wasteland of collapsed houses and coconut and banana trees felled by ferocious winds.
Bodies of victims were laid on the ground for viewing by people searching for missing relatives. Some were badly mangled after being dragged by raging floodwaters over rocks and other debris. A man sprayed insecticide on the remains to keep away swarms of flies.
In Davao Oriental, the coastal province first struck by Typhoon Bopha as it blew from the Pacific Ocean, at least 115 people died, mostly in three towns so battered that it was hard to find any buildings with roofs remaining, provincial officer Freddie Bendulo and other officials said.
“We had a problem where to take the evacuees. All the evacuation centres have lost their roofs,” Davao Oriental governor Corazon Malanyaon said.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies have issued an appeal for €3.7m to help people directly affected by the typhoon.
After slamming into Davao Oriental and Compostela Valley, Bopha roared quickly across the southern Mindanao and central regions, knocking out power in two entire provinces, triggering landslides and leaving houses and plantations damaged. More than 170,000 fled to evacuation centres.
About 20 typhoons and storms lash the northern and central Philippines each year, but they rarely hit the vast southern Mindanao region where sprawling export banana plantations have been planted over the decades because it seldom experiences strong winds that could blow down the trees.
A rare storm in the south last December killed more than 1,200 people and left many homeless.