‘Agaton’ death toll climbs to 224, over 100 still missing

LEYTE LANDSLIDE victims are put in cadaver bags.

By Jeanne Michael Penaranda

BAYBAY CITY, Leyte – The fatalities in the landslides and floods that hit Leyte, Samar and the Visayas triggered by tropical depression Agaton soared to 224 with over 100 still missing as authorities abandoned the search and rescue operations.

This as the partial cost of damage to public infrastructures was estimated by the Department of Public Works and Highways at P1.45 billion while agricultural losses was placed at P2.3 billion by the Department of Agriculture.

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.

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  as of April 17 as responders stopped retrieval operations two weeks 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 o destroyed many houses, roads, bridges and schoolbuildings  along with agricultural crops and livestock worth several billions 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 placed the city under a state of calamity. Later, the entire Leyte province and several areas in the Visayas were also placed under a state of calamity due to extensive damages in their areas.

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.

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.