By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
MANILA (Worthy News) – At least scores of people have died in the southern Philippines after floods and mudslides caused by a tropical storm, overshadowing All Saints’ Day weekend when families remember their late loved ones, government officials said Sunday.
Most casualties related to Tropical Storm Nalgae were in areas of Mindanao, the country’s second-largest island and the major breadbasket of the Philippines.
“We were stranded because of the storm, but now we are okay,” said Merry-Joy Osman, a Christian aid worker from Zamboanga City in Mindanao who was attending a wedding of her cousin when the storm struck.
“We got separated from the rest of the family. I was so concerned about my young daughter, who could have been swept away by the water. But she is now safe with my father and younger sisters and brother,” she added in a text message with Worthy News.
She said family members had to flee a small farm and into the mountains to escape the flooding. “My sister was almost swept away by the water while riding her motorbike as a bridge was underwater.”
Osman made the remarks as more details emerged about the many killed in the Philippine coastal village of Kusiong, which was once devastated by a killer tsunami.
Residents mistakenly thought a tidal wave was coming and ran to higher ground, where they were buried alive by the boulder-laden deluge, an official said Sunday.
At least 20 bodies, including those of children, were dug out by rescuers in the vast muddy mound that covers much of the village in southern Maguindanao province, among the hardest hit by Tropical Storm Nalgae.
Some 80 to 100 more people, including entire families, may have been buried by the deluge or washed away by flash floods in Kusiong between Thursday night and early Friday, added Naguib Sinarimbo, the interior minister for a Muslim autonomous region.
Officially, Nalgae, with its vast rain clouds, left at least 73 people dead, mostly in several provinces of Mindanao, including in Kusiong, but that death toll could rise, authorities said.
The catastrophe in Kusiong, populated mainly by the Teduray ethnic minority group, was especially tragic as its more than 2,000 villagers carried out annual drills to brace for a tsunami because of a deadly history.
But they were not prepared for the dangers from Mount Minandar, where their village lies at the foothills, Sinarimbo told media.
Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos Jr ordered urgent aid distribution to troubled Mindanao. The island’s Maguindanao province was the most affected, with 67 reported people dead, many of them in the Kusiong village.
Two more people were killed in Mindanao’s province of Sultan Kudarat and another two in the island’s South Cotabato province, the nation’s disaster agency said.
The rest of the casualties spread across the Visayas region in central Philippines, agency spokesperson Bernardo Rafaelito Alejandro told the DZMM radio network.
“It is too much,” said Meriam Comia, a devoted Christian speaking to Worthy News. “We are so blessed our place is out of floods, but nearby it is too much,” added Comia, a specialized factory worker and mother of one. However, whatever happens, “I sleep at peace,” she stressed, referring to her Christian faith.
Yet, she and others remain concerned about her town Tanza in the Cavite Province of Luzon, one of the Philippines’ most populous islands.
Nestled on the southern shores of Manila Bay and southwest of Manila, the capital, the region of some 64 million people is the economic and political center of the nation.
Nalgae had a strength, with maximum winds of 95 kilometers (60 miles) per hour and gusts of up to 115 kilometers per hour (71 miles) as it cut through the main Luzon island towards the South China Sea, the state weather agency said.
Fearing the storm could do more harm, Manila Mayor Isko Moreno Domagoso ordered “private memorial parks, cemeteries, and columbaries” to temporarily close till November 3, the city government said.
It came as a setback for families who had hoped to gather there. They wanted to remember loved ones who died during the annual All Saints’ Day, an important religious holiday in this heavily Catholic nation.
However, Manila’s mayor sought to prevent similar scenes as in the south, where rescuers pulled out bodies and survivors amid a sea of mud in areas where houses once stood.
Heavy flooding brought rescuers in boats. Some residents were stranded on the roofs of their houses, witnesses said.
Rescuers urged them “to jump” into rising water and climb into the boat as there was apparently no other way to save them.
Nalgae is the second deadliest cyclone to hit one of the world’s most disaster-prone countries this year, forcing tens of thousands of people to leave their homes.
It disrupted peak holiday travel in much of the nation, which is still recovering from the declared COVID-19 pandemic and previous natural disasters.
Another tropical depression gaining strength in the Pacific Ocean could enter Philippine territory on Tuesday, meteorologists added, potentially causing more havoc.
Almost 170,000 people have already been forced from their homes by the current storm, nearly a third of whom were sheltering in evacuation centers, government data showed.
It came after more misery in recent days when dozens of people were injured by a magnitude 6.4 earthquake that rocked the northern Philippines, forcing the closure of an international airport.
The quake was sending distressed residents into the streets and causing substantial damage to a hospital, witnesses and authorities recalled.
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