Tropical Storm Megi: Death toll rises in the Philippines to 123 as landslides bury villages | Phillipines

The death toll from landslides and floods in the Philippines rose to 123 on Wednesday with dozens missing and feared dead, officials said as rescuers dug up several bodies with bare hands and backhoes in shattered villages.

Most of the deaths from tropical storm Megi – the strongest to hit the archipelago this year – were in the central province of Leyte, where a series of landslides destroyed communities.

86 of the victims were in Baybay, a mountainous area in the province where 236 people were also injured, the city council said in a report. Waves of soaked soil had been smashed into farm buildings in Baybay town.

Twenty-six people died and about 150 were missing in the coastal village of Pilar, which is part of Abuyog municipality, after a stream of mud and soil on Tuesday pushed houses into the sea and buried most of the buildings, authorities said.

“I have to be honest, we are no longer expecting survivors,” said Abuyog Mayor Lemuel Traya, adding that emergency personnel were now focused on the difficult task of retrieving corpses.

About 250 people were in evacuation centers after being rescued by boat after the roads were cut by landslides, he said. A number of villagers were also at the hospital.

A rumbling sound like “a helicopter” alerted Ara Mae Canuto, 22, to the landslide that stormed her family’s home in Pilar. She said she tried to run from it but was swept into the water and almost drowned.

“I swallowed dirt and my ears and nose are full of mud,” Canuto said on the phone from his hospital bed. Her father died and her mother is not found.

Megi, which went ashore on Sunday with sustained winds of up to 65 km / h and gusts of up to 80 km / h, has since disappeared.

The disaster-prone region is regularly ravaged by storms – including a direct hit from super typhoon Haiyan in 2013 – with scientists warning that they are becoming more powerful as the world warms due to man-made climate change.

Aerial photos showed a wide stretch of mud that had swept down a hill of coconut trees and engulfed Bunga village, where only a few rooftops stuck through the now transformed landscape.

The Philippine Coast Guard is evacuating residents from flooded homes on a temporary raft in Panitan City, Capiz province. Photo: Philippine Coast Guard / AFP / Getty Images

“We were told to be on alert because a storm was coming, but they did not tell us directly that we should evacuate,” said Bunga farm worker Loderica Portarcos, 47, who lost 17 relatives and a friend in the landslide.

Portarcos braved heat and moisture as she advised a backhoe where she had to dig for three bodies still embedded in the soft soil that had begun to smell of rotten meat.

“Our dead relatives are all in the morgue, but there will be no time to wake up to mourn them because the mayor told us they smell bad,” she said.

Three people were also killed in the central province of Negros Oriental and three on the largest southern island of Mindanao, according to the National Disaster Agency.

Black body bags containing 26 victims from Pilar were laid out on sand in Abuyog for relatives to identify on Wednesday.

Abuyog police chief Captain James Mark Ruiz said more boats were needed but that access to the coast was difficult.

Photos posted by the Bureau of Fire Protection on Facebook showed buildings crushed or toppled by the force of landslides and debris in the water.

“We use fiberglass boats and there are steel rods exposed in the sea, so it is very difficult,” Abuyog Mayor Traya said, adding that the ground was unstable and “very risky”.

While Pilar survivor Canuto considers herself lucky to be alive, she said that “many of us died and many are also missing”.

Pope Francis expressed solidarity with the victims, the Vatican said in a statement.

“He also offers insurance on prayers for the dead, wounded and displaced as well as those engaged in recovery efforts,” it said. “His Holiness gladly invokes the blessings of God upon all the Filipino people.”

Megi whipped up the oceans, forcing dozens of ports to temporarily suspend operations, stranding thousands of people at the start of Holy Week, one of the busiest travel periods of the year in the Philippines.

It happened four months after super typhoon Rai destroyed parts of the country, killing more than 400 and leaving hundreds of thousands homeless.

The Philippines, ranked among the most vulnerable nations to the effects of climate change, is hit by an average of 20 storms a year.

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