EVACUATION Residents of Kabacan town in North Cotabato province leave their homes as floodwaters continue to rise. —AFP
The school principal could barely contain his emotion as the bodies of eight schoolchildren were plucked one by one out of the thick mud that descended on several villages in Salvador town, Lanao del Norte, on Friday.
“It’s very painful to see the bodies of the children, whom we also considered to be our own,” Ricardo Abalo, principal of Salvador Central School, told the Inquirer.
Forty-four deaths were confirmed in the town.
The death toll from floods and landslides triggered by Tropical Storm “Vinta” (international name: Tembin) in Mindanao rose to 166 on Sunday as more bodies were recovered in Lanao del Norte, Lanao del Sur and Zamboanga del Norte.
Reuters reported 200 dead, while the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council placed the death toll at 123, as it had yet to get validation from local governments.
Disaster officials said 159 people were missing while about 70,000 were forced to flee their homes.
Vinta lashed Mindanao on Friday with gusts of 125 kilometers per hour and torrential rain, wiping out at least one mountain village and prompting a massive rescue operation over the weekend. It roared out into the South China Sea early on Sunday.
Abalo, the principal, joined rescuers who combed the thick mud to find survivors in the villages of Pansor, Buntong and Madaya on Saturday. Among the missing was the 17-year-old child of teacher Paz Tabera Concepcion and several high school students.
So far, the bodies retrieved included those of pupils in kindergarten and Grades 3, 4 and 5.
Zamboanga del Norte topped the list of areas with the highest number of deaths at 72, according to provincial information officer Praxides Rubia.
Most of the deaths were in Gutalac town, Rubia said. Its mayor, Onesimo Coma Jr., said 15 of the 24 people who died from the floods were children aged from 3 months to 14 years.
Lanao del Norte reported 65 deaths, including the 44 in Salvador town. Munai town had 11 fatalities, Tubod town had eight and Iligan City, two.
Munai Mayor Casan Maquiling said 11 bodies had been recovered, including that of an 8-month-old. Thirty-five others, mostly children and women, remained missing, including Councilor Jamal Batalo, he said.
Abalo said what happened to Salvador town could be considered nature’s wrath. “Maybe nature wanted to send the message that it was important to take care of it.”
He noted that while logging and other destructive activities had already stopped in the town, those in nearby areas in Lanao del Sur continued.
Zia Adiong, spokesperson for the Lanao del Sur crisis management committee, said 26 people died in the province.
Piagapo town recorded 10 deaths, followed by Madalum with eight, Tugaya with four, Balindong with two, and Tamparan and Bacolod-Kalawi, one each.
Agusan del Sur, Bukidnon and Davao City reported one death each.
Flood from Mt. Gurayan
Citing accounts, Maquiling said floodwaters rampaged down Mt. Gurayan for about two hours.
Nine villages, including Lininding, Bacayawan, Pindolonan, Matampay and Old Poblacion, were severely affected.
At least 1,456 families were isolated after Dalama Bridge was damaged, he added. Pindolonan itself, he said, was cut into two areas.
Nine school buildings were destroyed.
In Tubod, none of the 20 people reported missing had been found. —REPORTS FROM DIVINA SUSON, JULIE ALIPALA AND CHARLIE SEÑASE IN MINDANAO, NIKKO DIZON IN MANILA, AFP