Abuyog, Philippines — The death toll ofrose to 67 on Wednesday with dozens missing and feared dead, officials said, as rescuers unearthed more bodies with their bare hands and with backhoes in crushed villages. Most deaths from Tropical Storm Megi – the strongest to hit the archipelago this year – have been in the central province of Leyte, where a series of landslides have devastated communities.
Thirteen people have died and around 150 are missing in the coastal village of Pilar, part of the municipality of Abuyog, after a torrent of mud and soil pushed houses into the sea and buried most of settlement,” said Abuyog Mayor Lemuel Traya.
“I have to be honest, we’re not expecting any more survivors,” Traya told AFP, adding that emergency personnel were now focused on the difficult task of recovering the bodies.
About 250 people were in evacuation centers after being rescued by boat after roads were cut off by landslides, he said. A number of villagers were also hospitalized.
A rumble like “a helicopter” alerted 22-year-old Ara Mae Canuto to the landslide rushing towards her family’s home in Pilar.
She said she tried to outrun him, but was swept away in the water and nearly drowned.
“I swallowed dirt, and my ears and nose are full of mud,” Canuto told AFP by phone from his hospital bed. Her father is deceased and her mother has not been found.
The disaster-prone Philippines is regularly ravaged by storms, including a direct hit fromin 2013 – with scientists warning they are getting more powerful as the world warms due to human-caused climate change.
Baybay City is also in shock after waves of soggy ground slammed into agricultural settlements over the weekend, killing at least 48 people and injuring more than 100, local authorities said. Twenty-seven are still missing, they added.
Aerial photos showed a wide expanse of mud that had rolled down a hillside of coconut palms and engulfed the village of Bunga, where only a few roofs crossed the now transformed landscape.
“We were told to be on alert because a storm was coming, but they didn’t tell us directly that we had to evacuate,” said Loderica Portarcos, 47, a farm worker from Bunga, who lost 17 loved ones and a friend in the landslide.
Portarcos braved the heat and humidity as she advised a backhoe operator where to dig to find three bodies still buried in the soft ground that had begun to smell of rotting flesh.
“Our deceased relatives are all in the morgue, but there won’t be time for a wake to mourn them because the mayor told us they smelled bad,” she said.
Three people were also killed in the central province of Negros Oriental and three on the main southern island of Mindanao, according to the national disaster agency.
The death toll in Megi is expected to rise as rescue operations shift to recovering bodies.
Abuyog Police Chief Captain James Mark Ruiz said more boats were needed for the victims in Pilar. But access to the shore was difficult.
Photos posted by the Bureau of Fire Protection on Facebook showed buildings crushed or toppled by the force of the landslide and debris in the water.
“We are using fiberglass boats and there are exposed steel bars in the sea so it is very difficult,” said the mayor of Abuyog Traya, adding that the ground was unstable and “very risky. “.
While Pilar survivor Canuto considers herself lucky to be alive, she said “many of us are dead and many are missing too.”
Rising seas, Megi has forced dozens of ports to temporarily suspend operations, stranding thousands at the start of Holy Week, one of the busiest travel times of the year in the Philippines.
It came four months after Super Typhoon Rai devastated swaths of the country, killing more than 400 people and leaving hundreds of thousands homeless.
The Philippines — ranked among the nations most vulnerable to the impacts of– is hit by an average of 20 storms each year.