Guest post by Jason Grossman
People living near the coastal village of Kusiong in the Philippines were met with devastation on Saturday when flash floods caused by tropical storm Nalgae turned into a mudslide burying villagers.
At least 20 bodies, including children, were removed by rescuers during recovery efforts. Kusiong, in the Southern Maguindanao Province, is among the hardest hit by the storm where at least 80-100 people, which might include entire families, may have been buried.
PBS reported on remarks by Naguib Sinarimbo, the interior minister for a Muslim autonomous region run by former separatist guerrillas who said, “When the people heard the warning bells, they ran up and gathered in a church on a high ground.”
The deluge of water overwhelmed many areas, trapping people on roofs and damaging more than 700 homes. More than 168,000 people have fled to evacuation camps.
The tragedy is compounded by the villagers diligence to preparedness having participated in disaster – preparedness drills for decades after a Tsunami killed thousands in 1976.
Kusiong was among the hardest hit by the 1976 catastrophe and the village never forgot that disaster. Elderly villagers who survived the Tsunami passed on their stories to their children to prepare them.
Bulldozers, backhoes and payloaders were brought to Kusiong on Saturday with more than 100 rescuers from the army, police and volunteers from other provinces, but they were unable to dig at a spot where survivors said the church lay underneath because the muddy mound was still dangerously soft, officials said.
The national disaster-response agency reported 22 missing from the storm’s onslaught in several provinces. Sinarimbo said many of the missing in Kusiong were not included in the government’s official tally because entire families may have been buried and no member was left to provide names and details to authorities.
Army Lt. Col. Dennis Almorato, who went to the mudslide-hit community Saturday, said the muddy deluge buried about 60 rural houses in about 5 hectares (12 acres) of the community. He gave no estimate of how many villagers may have been buried but described the extent of the mudslide as “overwhelming” and said the nighttime disaster may have unfolded fast.
A regional army commander, Major Gen. Roy Galido, has been ordered to lead an emergency command center to head search and retrieval work in Kusiong, officials said.
Sinarimbo said many of the missing in Kusiong have not been fully accounted for as yet because entire families may have been buried leaving no one to provide details to officials.
In addition to recovery efforts, locals are dealing with transportation disruptions as the Coast Guard has prohibited travel by sea and more than 100 domestic and international flights have been canceled so far in the region. Manila’s International airport was briefly closed.
President Fernand Marcos Jr. expressed concerns in a televised meeting with disaster-mitigation officials Saturday. “We should have done better,” Marcos Jr. said. “We were not able to anticipate that the volume of water will be that much so we were not able to warn the people and then to evacuate them out of the way of the incoming flash floods.”
PBBM disheartened over ‘Paeng’ death toll in Maguindanao; says it is ‘too high’
President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. expressed disappointment & sought an explanation from government offices after 45 people were reported to have died from the onslaught of STS “Paeng” in Maguindanao.
— Office of the Press Secretary (@opsgovph) October 29, 2022
Binibigyang prayoridad natin ang kaligtasan ng mga may kapansanan, may karamdaman, at mga senior citizen sa ating mga operasyon at nagsasagawa rin tayo ng medical check-ups sa ating mga evacuation centers. pic.twitter.com/xhHxnVYNxj
— Bongbong Marcos (@bongbongmarcos) October 29, 2022