Typhoon Durian triggers landslides in the Philippines

By Carlos H. Conde
International Herald Tribune
Published: December 1, 2006

MANILA: Strong winds and heavy rains accompanying Typhoon Durian triggered massive landslides in the northern Philippine province of Albay, killing 198 people, officials said Friday. At least 260 people are missing.

The landslides swept through at least three villages late Thursday near Mayon, the most active volcano in the Philippines and one of the country’s most famous tourist attractions because of its near-perfect cone.

The typhoon slammed into the eastern Philippines on Thursday morning, loosening the rock and mud that the volcano had deposited on its slopes earlier this year. Officials said debris cascaded into rivers and villages, beginning Thursday afternoon.

The National Disaster Coordinating Council put the death toll at 198 and the missing at 260 late on Friday and ordered the delivery to the disaster area of at least 200 body bags.

Fernando Gonzales, the governor of Albay, said on ABS-CBN television Friday night that half of his province’s population of 1.2 million people were directly affected by the typhoon. He also said that his office had received reports of more missing people. “We are not very hopeful,” Gonzales said, when asked about the prospects of finding the missing alive.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, in a meeting with disaster officials late Friday, dispatched the Philippine military to help in the rescue and recovery efforts. “Get the soldiers to help in any of the activities in the relief operations, extension of medical assistance, the cleaning of the roads, the restoration of power, and helping the stranded passengers,” she said at a National Disaster Coordinating Council briefing.

“It’s terrible,”said Noel Rosal, the mayor of Legazpi City, Albay’s capital. He said the torrent of black volcanic debris was so strong that the clothes of many of the victims had been torn away. “We now call this place a black desert,” he told The Associated Press.

Although officials had urged residents around the volcano to evacuate in July after lava and mud erupted from the cone, most of them remained. Mayon erupted in 1993, killing 70 people and leaving 50,000 homeless. An eruption in 2000 enveloped the region in thick clouds of ash, but early evacuation prevented any casualties.

Typhoon Durian, the fourth Pacific storm to hit the Philippines in the last four months, injured dozens of people in the Bicol region, which includes Albay and neighboring provinces. Strong winds of up to 225 kilometers per hour, or 140 miles per hour, destroyed houses and uprooted trees and electric poles. One woman was killed Thursday after she was hit by a galvanized iron roof. Power was cut off in several provinces battered by the typhoon.

Rescue work was hampered by strong winds and heavy rains that continued Friday in the Bicol region. Several roads were impassable, officials said, while power remained cut off in most of the region.

“It’s the worst in our history,” said Edmund Reyes, a congressman from Marinduque Province. “Almost all houses were damaged by the typhoon,” he said in a radio interview.

The typhoon was initially forecast to go through the capital, Manila, but had veered away by Thursday afternoon. Afraid that Durian might exact an even higher toll than Xangsane, the super typhoon that hit the capital in September and killed 213 people, the government ordered schools and offices closed Thursday.

Sea travel was also prohibited, and almost all domestic flights were canceled. In Manila, outdoor advertisers removed billboards along major highways, several of which had been toppled in previous typhoons, killing and injuring people.

Strong winds swept through the capital on Friday, but there have been no reports of injuries or deaths.

Typhoons are common in the Philippines, especially late in the year. Years of indiscriminate logging and mining have stripped many of the country’s mountains of trees, leaving villages vulnerable to landslides and flooding during typhoons.

In 1991, more than 5,000 people were killed in floods in the central Philippine province of Leyte. Two years ago, mudslides triggered by storms buried three towns in Quezon, a province south of Manila, killing more than 480 people.

About Carlos H. Conde

Researcher at Human Rights Watch (@condeHRW @hrw_ph). Former journalist (NYT, IHT, among others).
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