Over 20 people have been killed in the strongest typhoon to hit the Philippines this year, officials said Saturday, with “alarming” reports of destruction on islands that were hit hardest by the storm.
More than 300,000 people fled their homes and beachfront resorts as Typhoon Rai ravaged the southern and central regions of the archipelago, knocking out communications and electricity in many areas, ripping off roofs and toppling concrete power poles.
Rai was a super typhoon when it smashed into the popular tourist island of Siargao on Thursday, packing maximum sustained winds of 195 kilometres per hour (120 miles per hour). Its wind speeds eased to 150 kph as it barrelled across the country, dumping torrential rain that flooded villages, uprooting trees and shattering wooden structures.
“This is indeed one of the most powerful storms that has hit the Philippines in the month of December in the last decade,” Alberto Bocanegra, head of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in the Philippines, told AFP. “The information we are receiving and the pictures we are receiving are very alarming.”
More than 18,000 military, police, coast guard and fire personnel will join search and rescue efforts in the worst-affected regions, Mark Timbal, spokesman for the national disaster agency, told AFP.
“There has been severe damage” on Siargao island and the northern tip of the southern island of Mindanao, Timbal said, referring to areas that took the full force of the typhoon as it slammed into the country.
The vice governor of Dinagat, an island near Siargao, said at least six people had been killed there. “Odette was so strong,” Nilo Demerey told ABS-CBN, using the local name for the typhoon.
Residents on the island of around 128,000 people were “trying to repair their houses because even our evacuation centres were torn down,” he said. “They can’t seek refuge anywhere else… everything was destroyed.”
Scientists have long warned that typhoons are becoming more powerful and strengthening more rapidly as the world becomes warmer because of human-driven climate change.
The Philippines IS ranked as one of the world’s most vulnerable countries to the impacts of climate change. They are hit by an average of 20 storms and typhoons every year, which typically wipe out harvests, homes and infrastructure in largely poor areas.
ARTICLE: PAUL MURDOCH
MANAGING EDITOR: CARSON CHOATE
PHOTO CREDITS: VOA NEWS
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