By ALFRED GABOT, Editor in Chief
BAYBAY CITY, Leyte – Tropical depression Agaton battered Leyte and Samar provinces and other areas in the Visayas on April 10 before it left the country triggering massive floods and landslides brought about by rains bigger than those of typhoon “Ondoy” that killed at least 76 persons while over 140 people were missing at press time.
Later on April 15, government authorities, in an update on the fatalities, said 176 were killed and over 100 still missing.
Of the reported missing persons after the landslide, 73 are in Baybay City and 55 in Abuyog town.
The death toll from the landslides in Baybay City and Abuyog in Leyte alone climbed to 170 while 128 remained missing as of April 17 as responders continue retrieval operations one week after the tragedy.
The Baybay City Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office alone recorded 110 deaths.
The Baybay City office said recovered remains were from the villages of Kantagnos with 50 bodies, Mailhi (21), Bunga (17), Can-ipa (5), San Agustin (3), Maypatag (2), Pangasugan (VSU) (2), Palhi (2). One body each came from the following villages: Candadam, Zone 21, Caridad, Igang, Sto. Rosario, Gacat, Apid, and Inopacan.
In Abuyog town, of the 54 landslide deaths, 51 bodies were retrieved in the coastal village of Pilar. Other victims were found in Bahay and Tib-o villages.
The storm also destroyed many houses, roads, bridges and schoolbuildings along with agricultural crops and livestock worth several millions of pesos, according to local officials and National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC).
On April 15, President Rodrigo Duterte conducted an aerial inspection of Baybay City, and visited some landslide victims.
Duterte also met with officials of concerned government agencies and local government units to assess the damage and visited the one-stop center for indigent patients, the Malasakit Center, at the Western Leyte Provincial Hospital.
Duterte promised that the government would provide emergency food and shelter assistance to “Agaton” victims.
Senator Manny Pacquiao, meanwhile, called on the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to suspend rules that hinder candidates from helping disaster victims, such as residents of Eastern Visayas affected by Tropical Depression Agaton.
Some 13 helicopters and aircraft of the Philippine Air Force (PAF) were mobilized for the ongoing humanitarian assistance and disaster relief efforts in parts of the Visayas battered by Tropical Depression Agaton.
Air Force spokesperson Col. Maynard Mariano said four S-70i Black Hawk combat utility helicopters, another four Bell 412 choppers, one W-3A Sokol rescue helicopter, two C-295 medium transport aircraft, and two NC-212i light transport aircraft.
Mariano said these resources are deployed to transport relief goods and personnel, as well as conduct rapid damage assessment needs analysis.
The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) in Eastern Visayas has released 25,548 family food packs (FFPs) as an initial assistance to victims of Tropical Depression Agaton.
Earlier, Baybay City Mayor Jose Carlos Cari said the number of deaths due to landslides could still rise, prompting the mayor to place the city under a state of calamity.
On April 14, rescuers have retrieved the remains of 53 people killed by landslides in Baybay City and the town of Abuyog also in Leyte.
The NDRRMC reported at least 580,876 individuals or 213,327 families were affected by the tropical storm, adding more than 34,000 residents sought refuge in 348 evacuation centers.
The Department of Agriculture said the storm left at least P270 million damage to farms and livestock in Eastern Visayas and Caraga.
As officials mounted search and rescue operations and started distributing assistance, typhoon Agaton left the Philippine area of responsibility (PAR) but another typhoon, named Malakas. entered the PAR and was given the local name “Basyang.”
The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) downplayed the new typhoon saying “Basyang” is unlikely to directly affect the coastal waters’ sea condition, but swells resulting from the typhoon is forecast to generate moderate to rough seas over the northern and eastern seaboards of Luzon, as well as the eastern seaboards of the Visayas and Mindanao.
The NDRRMC reported 43 deaths from Agaton in its latest report, 37 in Eastern Visayas, three fatalities in Central Visayas, and three from Davao Region. Local officials who are in the ground, however, reported higher number of fatalities.
In Baybay City, local authorities reported at least 26 people were still missing and105 others injured.
Three people were also killed in the central province of Negros Oriental and 3 on the main southern island of Mindanao, according to the national disaster agency.
The death toll from Agaton is expected to rise as rescue operations switch to recovering bodies.
Typhoon Agaton came four months after super typhoon Odette devastated swaths of the country, killing more than 400 and leaving hundreds of thousands homeless.
The death toll from landslides and floods may still rise, officials said, as rescuers dug up more bodies with bare hands and backhoes in crushed villages.
Most of the deaths from tropical depression Agaton (international name: Megi) — the strongest to hit the archipelago this year — were in the central province of Leyte, where a series of landslides devastated communities.
On April 13, 13 people died and around 150 were missing in barangay Pilar, which is part of Abuyog municipality, after a torrent of mud and earth pushed houses into the sea and buried most of the settlement, Abuyog Mayor Lemuel Traya said.
Cebu City was also placed under a state of calamity due to Tropical Storm Agaton.
Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama announced on Sunday the emergency declaration due to heavy rains brought by the weather disturbance in the city.
Rama said the downpour caused some flooding in the city, with threats of landslides.
Rama also ordered the suspension of work and classes in Cebu City as a preventive measure, despite the lack of a tropical cyclone wind signal warning from the weather bureau in the area.
A total of 5,398 passengers have been stranded and at least 1,393 rolling cargoes, 10 vessels, and eight sea vessels were forced to take shelter in different ports across Bicol due to the effects of Tropical Depression Agaton, according to the Office of Civil Defense (OCD) in the region.
The Philippine Coast Guard canceled sea travels in various ports as a preemptive measure.
Gremil Alexis Naz, OCD-Bicol spokesperson, in an interview, said stranded passengers and vessels were noted at the seaports of Matnog in Sorsogon province, Bapor in Masbate City, and San Pascual in Camarines Sur.
“Aside from the stranded in seaports, there were also 386 individuals, 38 trucks, and 145 light vehicles and vans stranded at the Maharlika Highway in Sorsogon due to the suspension of sea trips to the Visayas,” Naz said.
The Office of the Civil Defense (OCD) in Western Visayas (Region 6) reported that the flooding due to Tropical Depression Agaton affected 12,989 families or 59,944 persons from 110 barangays in four out of six provinces in the region.
Cindy Ferrer, OCD 6 information officer, said based on their initial data as of 4 p.m. the floodings were reported in Iloilo, Capiz, Negros, and Aklan.