Rescue teams head for hard-hit areas in Mindanao; muddy search continues

Posted on December 6, 2012

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Unlike the previous day’s turbulent weather, the sun was back yesterday, a day after typhoon Pablo killed more than 270 people and injuring at least 180 in Mindanao.

Mud-stained bodies covered with banana leaves were laid out in a row and survivors dried their soiled belongings on the roadside in hard-hit areas in northern and central Mindanao.

Officials feared many more bodies could be found as rescuers reach areas that had been isolated by landslides, floods and downed communications.

At least 151 people have died in the worst-hit province of Compostela Valley since typhoon Pablo began lashing the region early Tuesday, provincial spokeswoman Fe Maestre said.

About 80 people survived the deluge in New Bataan town with injuries, but an unspecified number of villagers remain missing. Yesterday the farming town of 45,000 people was a muddy wasteland of collapsed houses and columns of coconut and banana trees felled by Pablo’s ferocious winds.

Outside a town gymnasium, several mud-stained bodies were laid side-by-side, covered by cloth and banana leaves and surrounded by villagers covering their noses to fight the stench. A man sprayed insecticide on the remains to turn away swarms of flies.

“It’s hard to say how many more are missing,” Maestre said. “We’re now searching everywhere.”

Grim search

A family of four, clutching each other, went over the bodies lined up outside the public gymnasium in New Bataan. They started to wail when they reached a body of girl, her face covered with mud. The body of 8-year-old Rena Mae Adlawan was one of the 79 recovered around town.The girl’s mother, Bebeng, and sister, Jade, were still missing, as of yesterday afternoon. The young girls and their mother were in their home when muddy water swept through their community in barangay Andap.

Upon seeing his daughter, Rena Mae’s father poured water on the girl’s face, gently touching and cleaning it. Sadrak Adlawan, Rena Mae’s cousin, said they worked in San Francisco, Agusan del Sur, and were trying to return home to be with the family when the typhoon struck.

“We were supposed to go home and be with them during the storm, but it was too late when we arrived,” Sadrak said.

But the Adlawans were not the only ones reeling from tragedy. Around them, villagers were beyond grief and disbelief upon seeing not only their homes but family members and friends gone.

Outside the gymnasium’s fence, more villagers, pain etched on their faces, waited for more bodies to arrive. The sight of a coming military truck brought mixed feelings in the air— it could be ferrying survivor or dead bodies.

Bodies after bodies — some already in a state of decomposition after being submerged in water and mud for several hours – arrived. Another military vehicle came, with survivors on board, bringing great emotional relief to those who were searching for them.

One of them was 7-year-old Imee Sayson, who was seen by rescuers half-submerged in water and mud in a far-flung farming village here. “She was fortunately found by rescuers, but her father Rommel and brother Ayel are nowhere to be found,” said Vic Paulo Bandong, a Red Cross volunteer who was among those who administered first aid to the girl.

The Inquirer tried to ask Imee how she endured the almost 24-hour coldness and being exposed to the elements, but she kept on saying “gutom ko (I’m hungry).” /AP and Inquirer

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