By JIM GOMEZ | ASSOCIATED PRESS
MANILA, Philippines (AP) — A powerful typhoon that battered the central Philippines left at least 12 people dead in massive floods that trapped residents on roofs and damaged buildings including a hotel and an airport, officials said.
Typhoon Rai slightly weakened after slamming ashore Thursday on the country’s southeastern coast but still packed destructive and deadly winds of 150 kilometers (93 miles) per hour and gusts of up to 205 (127 mph). Meteorologists said it was moving away into the South China Sea on Friday.
Officials were assessing the damage and casualties wrought by one of the strongest typhoons to hit the country in recent years but said efforts were hampered by widespread power outages, downed communications and roads clogged with fallen trees and debris.
Witnesses described ferocious winds that ripped off roofs and forced down trees.
“I have never experienced such ferocity of the wind in my life and we were not even directly hit,” Mayor Jerry Trenas of central Iloilo city told The Associated Press by telephone, adding that at least one resident was killed when she was hit by a cluster of bamboo blown down by the storm on her hut.
Workers were clearing roads in the coastal city of nearly half a million people, which remained without power and struggled with erratic cellphone signals, he said.
Eleven other people died, mostly after being hit by fallen trees, collapsed walls and ceilings and debris, and seven villagers were missing, Ricardo Jalad, who heads the government’s disaster-response agency, told President Rodrigo Duterte in a televised meeting. A large number of houses and buildings, including an airport and a hotel, were damaged by the wind or inundated by floodwaters, officials said.
In central Bohol province, which was directly hit by the typhoon, Gov. Arthur Yap said many residents remained trapped on their roofs by floodwater for a second day in the riverside town of Loboc, where his own house was swamped by water up to the second floor. Yap pleaded for volunteers from other regions to help save residents, saying he and other officials were struggling to find a way to deploy rescue boats to Loboc.
“Hundreds of families are trapped on the rooftops right now,” Yap told DZBB radio, adding that residents were exposed to rain and wind overnight. “We need first responders. What’s important now is to save lives.”
It was unclear what happened in other towns in the hard-hit province, which still had no electricity, Yap said.
Presidential spokesman Karlo Nograles said more than 332,000 people were evacuated as the typhoon approached, including nearly 15,000 who were brought to evacuation centers. Crowding in those centers complicated efforts to keep people safely distanced after authorities detected the country’s first infections caused by the omicron variant of the coronavirus. Vaccination campaigns were also halted in provinces lashed by the typhoon.
The coast guard grounded all vessels in dozens of ports, stranding more than 4,500 passengers and ferry and cargo ship workers. An international airport in central Cebu province was closed and several mostly domestic flights were cancelled while schools and workplaces were shut in the most vulnerable areas, Nograles said.
At least 62 cities and towns either lost power entirely or were experiencing disruptions.
About 20 storms and typhoons batter the Philippines each year. The archipelago is located in the seismically active Pacific “Ring of Fire” region, making it one of the world’s most disaster-prone countries.