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State of calamity in two provinces

By AFP | Aug. 14, 2013 at 12:02am
Rescuers  used helicopters and bulldozers on Tuesday to reach isolated towns devastated by Typhoon Labuyo—international name Utor— which left tens of thousands homeless and a trail of destruction in its wake.

The Coast Guard said three people were killed  and 11 others were missing after Labuyo, the strongest storm to hit the country this year, swept across Northern Luzon on Monday.

The damage to infrastructure and agriculture in Aurora province reached P157 million, while three municipalities were declared in a state of calamity.

Several municipalities in Masinloc, Zambales and Casiguran were also declared in a state of calamity, while the damage to infrastructure and agriculture in Cagayan Valley reached P14.3 million.

Deputy presidential spokeswoman Abigail Valte said the Department of Social Welfare and Development had a P160-million standby fund to help the communities affected by the storm.

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

The Philippines is one of the world’s most vulnerable countries to typhoons, as it is where storms often make their first landfall after they emerge out of the Pacific Ocean and move west.

Hundreds of people die from the roughly 20 typhoons or tropical storms that strike the Philippines each year.

Labuyo hit land with wind gusts reaching 200 kilometers per hour early Monday, making it the strongest storm this year, according to the weather bureau.

However, there were hopeful signs that the Philippines had escaped Labuyo with a relatively small number of casualties after soldiers and other rescue workers reached three towns on Tuesday that were believed to be the worst hit.

The towns, home to about 45,000 people in Aurora province on the east coast of Luzon, were in Labuyo’s direct path when it made landfall before dawn on Monday.

Soldiers who clambered over landslide-choked roads to reach the areas on foot said they saw substantial damage to homes and other buildings, but residents reported no major casualties, according to northern Philippines military spokesman Major Ernesto Garcia.

“Military troops are already in the said area conducting rescue and clearing of roads and distributing relief goods,” he told AFP.

Three military helicopters also flew to the area in the afternoon, bringing aid and experts to assess longer-term needs, said Aurora provincial disaster official Elson Egargue.

Joe Curry, country chief of the aid group Catholic Relief Services, said he expected the major road to the isolated towns to reopen by Wednesday.

He said other people involved in the rescue and relief operation said the death toll might be lower than feared because residents were well prepared.

“I think people are agreeing that these places have been hit many times before, so they know how to deal with typhoons. The flood damage is less than it has been before,” Curry said.

Philippine National Red Cross secretary-general Gwendolyn Pang also told AFP that the people in the worst-hit areas were typhoon veterans.

“They know how to prepare, they know how to check for early warning signs like flood levels,” she said.

Nevertheless, more than 30,000 people were in temporary shelters on Tuesday after Labuyo destroyed more than 2,000 homes, according to the national government’s disaster management council.

The two confirmed fatalities were a man who drowned and another who was buried by a landslide.       The Red Cross listed a third death but gave no details.

Of the 11 people listed as missing, one was a woman filmed by a television crew as she stood crying for help atop her house that was swept away by a swollen river.With Joel E. Zurbano, Ferdie G. Domingo, Maricel V. Cruz and Florante S. Solmerin
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