Philippines devastated by typhoon

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WASHINGTON - The destruction from Typhoon Bopha in portions of Mindanao in the southern Philippines is worse than feared as rescue workers continued to discover bodies under knee-deep mud, said a Catholic Relief Services official coordinating the agency's storm response.

"It looks like a tsunami hit. It's just complete and total destruction. Whole hillsides were washed away in flash floods," Joe Curry, CRS country representative, told Catholic News Service Dec. 6.

"The staff there have been through a half dozen typhoons and floods in the Philippines, and they say this is probably the worst," Curry added. "I've heard the same from other seasoned people from other donor organizations."

Typhoon Bopha made landfall on the east coast of Mindanao north of Davao Dec. 4, lashing the island with 120-mph winds and torrential rains, before sweeping inland. Witnesses reported that the rain turned normally placid rivers and streams into raging torrents that inundated the fertile Compostela Valley. The accompanying winds destroyed banana plantations in the fertile valley.

Curry said that a CRS team reached New Bataan, a city of about 80,000 in the Compostela Valley, Dec. 6 and found much of the community under mud and without electricity. He said local officials reported that at least 240 people had died in the city alone while hundreds more were swept away in flash floods.

The government confirmed Dec. 6 that 370 people were dead throughout Mindanao.

"The town had a lake on the top of a hill, and the rain caused the lake to come down like a waterfall and wash everything out," Curry said.

Other teams of CRS workers continued to assess damage and the needs of storm survivors.

CRS had planned to begin distributing hygiene kits, sleeping mats, blankets, cooking utensils and water Dec. 6, but Curry said that it would likely be Dec. 10 or 11 before supplies could reach the affected areas because of blocked roads and washed-out bridges.

"The government is doing more search and rescue right now. They're looking at saving lives and digging out people from the mud. The scale of this is huge. These are areas that are not accustomed to storms," Curry said.

CRS also planned to distribute tarps and other shelter materials for people who have been forced to live in the open since the storm dissipated because the evacuation centers were filled to capacity.

"People are trying to salvage materials to put a roof over their heads," Curry said.

The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council said the typhoon affected 231,630 people in 513 villages in 25 provinces, reported the Asian church news agency UCA News. Of these, more than 179,000 people sought shelter in 417 evacuation centers, the council reported.

The government continued to call for donations for victims.

"Filipino solidarity is at its most potent amidst testing times. We call on our countrymen to give generously for the relief and well-being of our brethren in the Visayas and Mindanao," a statement from the presidential palace said.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 1970