The Philippines is well-used to being battered by the weather, hit by around 20 cyclones annually. But however well-prepared the country tires to make itself, the ferocity of the weather systems can be lethal. This latest typhoon, called Bopha, was the most powerful to hit the country in 2012 and struck the southern island of Mindanao, which often escapes the worst storms. This time though, it has not been so lucky and the death toll has already reached over 280 people, with hundreds still missing.
Rescuers are battling to reach areas cut off by floods and mudslides. The mountain town of New Bataan was particularly badly affected, as was the nearby province of Davao Oriental. Officials in the region report that nearly 90,000 people sought refuge from the typhoon in gyms, schools and other state buildings. But even in government buildings, not everyone was safe. An army patrol base in New Bataan was washed away in flash floods, as were evacuation centres. In the Compostela Valley, reports suggest dozens of women and children were drowned after they had taken shelter in a village centre which was washed away.
Though the full extent of the damage has yet to be assessed, it’s clear that many people have lost their homes and damage to agriculture and infrastructure is extensive. In some areas, it wasn’t only the wind and torrential rain which caused the destruction, but also large volumes of water which escaped irrigation reservoirs. With many slopes stripped of forest cover, water made its way quickly down the mountains.
Speaking to reporters in the capital Manila, President Benigno Aquino spoke of the dead and missing (over 500) as below the 1,200 deaths from tropical storm Washi in December last year. Even so, he said even a “single casualty is a cause for distress” and that his country must continue to find ways to lessen losses and damage from weather systems.
But the task is likely to get much harder. At the UN’s climate talks, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned that with rising global temperatures, superstorms and other climate risks, such as rising sea levels, look set to increase. “The abnormal is the new normal,” he told those attending the talks, adding “no one is immune to climate change – rich or poor”.