By Sara Gomez Armas
Manila, Nov 13 (efe-epa).- Typhoon Vamco, the fifth cyclone to hit the Philippines in less than a month, has left at least 39 dead, 22 missing and 50 injured as it passed the north of the country, where it caused serious flooding, the worst remembered in Manila in decades, authorities reported Friday.
Thick mud and debris covered many neighborhoods and municipalities in the Philippine capital on Friday after Vamco – which swept through the center of Luzon island early Thursday morning – caused severe flooding that forced many residents to take refuge on the rooftops of their houses.
Of the total number of deaths, 12 bodies have been recovered in Manila, according to data provided Friday at a press conference by the head of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Gilbert Gapay, who is leading the rescue efforts.
“We will continue searching for the disappeared and helping in the damage assessment,” Gapay said about the rescue efforts, for which amphibious military vehicles that are normally used for counterinsurgency operations are being used.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte – highly criticized for his absence during the past typhoons – was also not present at the press conference in which several ministers and government officials participated. The president broadcast a Thursday televised message in which he promised help for all those affected by Vamco.
“As President, I assure you that your government will do everything possible to provide assistance in the form of shelters, relief items, financial aid, and post-disaster counseling. Rest assured, the government will leave no one behind and we will emerge from this crisis,” the president said.
However, at the same press conference, Government Spokesman Harry Roque offered different official data – 14 dead and 14 missing – although he admitted that the figure would be higher as they verify the information from government agencies involved in the rescue work.
Vamco, which already left the Philippines area Friday morning, forced the evacuation of some 350,000 people throughout the country and some 100,000 have had to be rescued by emergency teams, 41,000 only in the capital.
Emergency services compare the situation in the capital with Typhoon Ketsana in 2009, the most devastating to hit Manila, which left 464 dead in the entire country, although Vamco hit with stronger winds and rains.
At the eastern end of the city, thousands of families were evacuated as the water submerged some 40,000 homes as the Marikina River reached 22 meters, surpassing the 21.5 mark for Ketsana in 2009, when severe flooding occurred in the district of Marikina with 78 dead.
“The situation is overwhelming,” admitted the mayor of Marikina, Marcelino Teodoro, who confessed that they did not expect the river to exceed 18 meters.
Vamco, which made landfall Wednesday night on the east coast of Luzon, in Quezon province, combed the central area of ??the island with sustained winds of 155 kilometers per hour and gusts of up to 255 kmph and heavy rains, according to Pagasa, the national meteorological agency.
In its wake, Vamco toppled trees, homes and power poles, knocking out some 3.8 million people in Manila and outlying provinces, forcing classes and government jobs to be suspended.
Vamco is the fifth cyclone to hit the country in less than a month, after the last storms caused 50 victims and millions of dollars in damages.
The regions of Bicol and Calabarzon, south of Luzon, also suffered the onslaught of Vamco while still recovering from the strong impact of Typhoon Goni – which caused more than 30 deaths and disappearances – and Typhoon Molave ??(26 victims), with accumulated losses in agriculture and infrastructure of about $220 million.
In recent weeks, the Philippines – which is affected by an average of 20 cyclones a year – has also suffered severe tropical storm Atsani and tropical storm Etau.
After having suffered 21 cyclones so far this year, the national meteorological agency, Pagasa, warned the Philippines could still suffer the passage of another four before the end of 2020, a year especially vulnerable to storms due to the impact of the phenomenon known as La Niña. EFE-EPA