Hundreds of people were still missing Monday after Typhoon Bopha struck the southern stretches of the Philippines last week, claiming more than 600 lives and displacing more than 5 million people.
Though the Philippines are battered by more than a dozen storms every year, the southern islands are usually out of the storm path, leaving them less prepared for the onslaught of overpowering winds and rains. The typhoon devastated whole villages swamped with sudden floods, triggering deadly landslides and wiping out crops.
The U.N. launched an appeal Monday for $65 million to help the Philippines recover by providing food, water and emergency shelter to the worst-hit areas.
“Coconut palms have been torn up by their roots and flung across the road. Metal telegraph poles are snapped in two,” U.N. worker Imogen Wall wrote in a diary entry about the ravaged areas. Outside a makeshift mortuary, “a 10-year-old girl, covered in cuts and bruises, has lost her entire family. A mother, Violie, cannot hold back the tears for her 15-year-old daughter, lost beneath the mud.”
As of early Monday morning, disaster officials estimated nearly 800 people were still missing. Later in the day, local media reported the number had soared to nearly 900 as families reported losing contact with hundreds of fishermen at sea. Rescue workers were still combing through the muddy debris, seeking signs of life, but the death toll has only grown day by day as the search continues.
“I have seen total devastation of villages. Neighborhoods are completely flattened and houses reduced to debris,” U.N. humanitarian coordinator Luiza Carvalho said in a statement Monday. “Entire communities, including pregnant women and children, have no shelter.”
Government officials said they were hastening to build 63 new bunkhouses in the hardest-hit areas of Compostela Valley. In some flooded areas, aid efforts have been hampered by the damage wrought by the storm, with several roads and bridges remaining barred or impassable on Monday.
In one isolated village, hungry and wounded survivors told an ABS-CBN television news team that they had to resort to eating rotten food as they endured for days without help. Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda pleaded for companies to provide private helicopters to send supplies to the needy, the official Philippines News Agency reported.After the immediate crisis is quelled, southern areas will need help to replenish agricultural fields battered by the typhoon, the U.N. said. Disaster officials estimated the storm caused nearly $174 million in damages, including more than $88 million suffered by the farming sector, an especially brutal blow in areas where many families rely on farming to feed themselves.