Philippines begins cleanup in typhoon’s wake

Tens of thousands left homeless after Utor sweeps across north

AFP-JIJI

Philippine rescuers cleared landslide-choked roads Tuesday in an effort to reach isolated villages devastated by deadly Typhoon Utor, which killed two people and left tens of thousands of people homeless.

The government also reported that 11 people remain missing after Utor, the strongest storm so far this year, swept across the north of the Philippines on Monday.

“Trees have fallen down, roofs have been torn off houses, electric poles and electric towers have collapsed,” said National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council spokesman Reynaldo Balido, describing chaos from coastal towns to mountain villages hundreds of kilometers apart.

One of the top priorities for rescuers was three towns in Aurora province on the main island of Luzon that were in Utor’s direct path when it made landfall before dawn Monday. The towns, home to about 45,000 people, were still completely cut off as of Tuesday morning, according to Aurora disaster chief Elson Egargue.

He said the mayor of one of the towns, Casiguran, reported that 95 percent of the buildings in the town had been destroyed.

Rescuers deployed earth-moving equipment Tuesday to clear the national highway leading to the three towns. The route was blocked in several areas by landslides, floods and fallen tree trunks, Egargue reported.

However, officials had not reported any deaths, giving cause for optimism.

Gerardo Noveras, the governor of Aurora, said on ABS-CBN television that the road to Casiguran should be re-opened later Tuesday.

Hundreds of people die each year in the Philippines from the roughly 20 typhoons or tropical storms that strike it annually. But when Utor hit land, its wind gusts reached 200 kph, making it the strongest storm this year, according to the weather bureau.

“This was nearly as powerful as Bopha,” Balido said, referring to the world’s deadliest typhoon last year, which hit the southern Philippines in December and killed more than 1,000 people.

Utor flattened at least 1,577 houses and more than 30,000 people were in temporary shelters Tuesday, according to the disaster council. However this tally did not include many residents in the three devastated towns in Aurora province, as authorities had not been able to assess the damage there.

The two confirmed fatalities were a man who drowned and another who was buried by a landslide. Of the 11 people listed as missing, one was a woman swept away as she stood crying for help atop her house that was swept away by a swollen river.

On Tuesday, Utor was in the South China Sea heading toward southern China.