By Aaron B. Recuenco and Ellalyn Ruiz
The death toll from tropical storm “Vinta” which unleashed landslides and floods in Mindanao rose to at least 240, with close to 14,000 families or 60,000 individuals spending their Christmas in evacuation centers.
The additional fatalities were reported from Lanao del Sur with nine more dead from the earlier reported 18 deaths; and in Zamboanga Peninsula region with a total fatality list of 78, 74 of them from Zamboanga del Norte.
The fatality list in Northern Mindanao remains at 135, but the missing persons remain at 72, according to Superintendent Lemuel Gonda, police regional office spokesman.
Chief Inspector Helen Galvez, spokesperson of the Zamboanga Peninsula Region, said there are only 27 missing people in the region, 26 of them are in Zambonga del Norte while the other one is from Zamboanga Sibugay.
Rescuers are still looking for a total of 107 people in these three areas. Many were feared killed by mudslides and flash floods that buried or swept away hundreds of houses, mostly in Lanao del Norte and Lanao del Sur.
More than 500 houses were also damaged in the entire region, according to Galvez, most of them due to the flashflood that swept several towns in Zamboangadel Norte.
On the other hand, several roads remain not passable in some areas in the region due to damaged roads and bridges.
Mayor Bong Edding of Sibuco town in Zamboangadel Norte blamed logging operations in the mountains for a flash flood that swept away houses with more than 30 residents. Five bodies have been recovered so far in the village and a search and rescue operation was continuing.
Health worker Arturo Simbajon said nearly the entire coastal village of Anungan on the Zamboanga Peninsula had been wiped out by a barrage of broken logs, boulders, and mud that swept down a river and out to sea.
“Only the mosque was left standing,” Simbajon said.
“People were watching the rising sea but did not expect the water to come from behind them.”
The close to 14,000 families or 60,000 individuals affected by Vinta remain in 200 evacuation sites in Mimaropa (Region 4-B), Zamboanga Peninsula, Northern Mindanao, Davao Region, and Caraga Region.
“Our hearts and minds are with the thousands of Filipinos and their families who are affected by typhoon Vinta and we promise that we are working around the clock to help the rest of the national government as well as local government units to ensure that assistance is extended to them,” Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) OIC Secretary Emmanuel Leyco said.
Leyco said many internally displaced persons (IDPs) from Marawi who are still staying in tents were also affected by Vinta.
“We have advised them to move out temporarily and stay in school buildings for safety. We are coordinating with the disaster and relief units of local government units on these efforts,” he said.
Search and rescue operations are still being conducted in the affected areas for the missing local residents while several teams were deployed for relief missions.
Vietnam braces for typhoon
Meanwhile, authorities in Vietnam prepared to move a million people from low-lying areas along the south coast on Monday as typhoon “Tembin” (named Vinta in the Philippines) approached after it battered the Philippines with floods and landslides.
Tembin is expected to slam into Vietnam late on Monday after bringing misery to the predominantly Christian Philippines just before Christmas.
Vietnam’s disaster prevention committee said 74,000 people had been moved to safety from vulnerable areas, while authorities in 15 provinces and cities were prepared to move more than 1 million.
The government ordered that oil rigs and vessels be protected and it warned that about 62,000 fishing boats should not venture out to sea.
“Vietnam must ensure the safety of its oil rigs and vessels. If necessary, close the oil rigs and evacuate workers,” Prime Minister Nguyen XuanPhuc was quoted as saying on a government website.
Schools were ordered to close in the southern commercial hub of Ho Chi Minh City on Monday, a working day in Vietnam.
On Sunday, Tembin hit the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, parts of which are contested by several countries, including the Philippines, Vietnam, and China.
No casualties were reported in outposts there.
Vietnam, like the Philippines, is regularly battered by typhoons that form over the warm waters of the Pacific and barrel westwards into land.
Tembin will be the 16th major storm to hit Vietnam this year. The storms and other disasters have left 390 people dead or missing, according to official figures. (With reports from AFP, AP and Reuters)