By Afrhill Rances in Manila
The Philippine Red Cross is continuing to build its response in the southern island of Mindanao, as the full horror of the aftermath of Typhoon Washi becomes more apparent.
The storm made landfall late on 17 December, triggering flash floods across the north of the island. More than 600 people are believed to have been killed with at least another 800 still missing. In all, more than 135,000 people were affected, 45,000 of whom have been forced to seek refuge in evacuation centres.
Earlier today, the Red Cross Movement deployed emergency supplies for 5,000 families from Manila and Davao (Mindanao’s capital) to the affected area in the North of the island. More than 600 volunteers and staff have been active since the storm hit. Teams have been involved in search and rescue, as well as providing support to people in evacuation centres.
The Philippine Red Cross and local authorities expect the death toll to continue to rise as more information comes to hand. Already, reports from the worst affected areas tell of houses being washed away or smashed by trees and rocks swept down from surrounding hills by the floodwaters.
Some tales, like Yvonne Antoliuao’s, are simply heartbreaking. The 45-year-old mother of four was at home with her children when the storm hit. Like most residents of Mindanao, Antoliuao was not well-prepared for what was to come as storms rarely affect the region.
As the rain began to fall, she went outside to see that the rapidly rising water had already reached her house. Soon, it reached waist-level and then quickly it was up to her chest.
She grabbed her kids and started to climb a mango tree next to their home. As they clambered up the tree, a child below her called for help. “The child came and held on to my foot asking for help. But I could not help him as I was struggling to save my four children.”
The morning after, when the water receded, Yvonne saw the lifeless body of the child from the night before, in exactly the same position at the foot of the mango tree. “It really broke my heart that I was not able to save him, but what could I do, I had to save my children,” Yvonne sobs.
Richard Gordon, Philippine Red Cross chairman, has been assessing the situation in Northern Mindanao. He said the devastation was unprecedented. “I’ve gone through many disasters but this one is the worst as the affected people have lost many family members,” he said. “Some families have lost as many as 30 members.”
The Philippine Red Cross will continue its support to the families and communities affected by Typhoon Washi for as long as is needed.