The death toll from the strongest typhoon to hit the Philippines this year surpassed 200 on Monday, as desperate survivors pleaded for urgent supplies of drinking water and food.
The Catholic Church in the country has declared December 25, Christmas Day, and December 26 as “National Days of Prayer” for families affected by super typhoon Rai (local name: Odette).
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines urged dioceses to dedicate these days to pray for the recovery of communities affected by the typhoon.
Local churches are encouraged to hold a second collection in all Masses on Christmas Day and the following day for victims of the disaster.
Bishop Pablo Virgilio David of Kalookan, president of the bishops’ conference, said the Church’s “Alay Kapwa Solidarity Fund” will be used for the collective emergency response.
“We encourage everyone to remit all collections to Caritas Philippines that will then plan and implement our overall response,” said Bishop David.
He said the Church’s social action arm will also provide the dioceses reports and updates on a regular basis.
“May this season of giving offer us more opportunities to do consistent acts of Alay Kapwa (offering of oneself),” he said.
Caritas Philippines earlier announced that at least 10 dioceses in Visayas and Mindanao regions were heavily affected by the typhoon.
The Philippine Red Cross reported “complete carnage” in coastal areas after Rai left homes, hospitals and schools “ripped to shreds.”
The storm tore off roofs, uprooted trees, toppled concrete power poles, smashed wooden houses to pieces, wiped out crops and flooded villages — sparking comparisons with Super Typhoon Haiyan in 2013.
At least 208 people were killed and 52 were missing in the latest disaster to hit the archipelago, with hundreds more injured after the storm ravaged southern and central regions, the national police said.
More than 300,000 people fled their homes and beachfront resorts as Rai slammed into the country on Thursday as a super typhoon.
“Our situation is so desperate,” said Ferry Asuncion, a street vendor in the hard-hit seaside city of Surigao, which was devastated by the storm.
Residents urgently needed “drinking water and food”, he said.
One of the hardest-hit islands was Bohol — known for its beaches, rolling “Chocolate Hills,” and tiny tarsier primates — where at least 80 people have died, provincial Governor Arthur Yap said on his official Facebook page.
Many wooden houses in the coastal town of Ubay were flattened and small fishing boats destroyed on the island, where a state of calamity has been declared.
Victims plea S.O.S
There has also been widespread destruction on Siargao, Dinagat and Mindanao islands, which bore the brunt of the storm when it slammed into the country packing wind speeds of 195 kilometers (120 miles) per hour.
At least 10 people died on the Dinagat Islands, provincial information officer Jeffrey Crisostomo told AFP on Sunday.
S.O.S was painted on a road in the popular tourist town of General Luna on Siargao island, where surfers and holidaymakers had flocked ahead of Christmas, as people struggled to find water and food.
“There’s no water anymore, there’s a water shortage, on day one there was already looting in our neighborhood,” Siargao resort owner Marja O’Donnell told CNN Philippines.
The storm has dealt a savage blow to the country’s tourism sector, which was already struggling to recover after COVID-19 restrictions decimated visitor numbers.
Swathes of the affected areas have no communications, hampering efforts by disaster agencies to assess the full extent of the storm’s damage.
Electricity also has been knocked out, affecting water-refilling stations and ATMs.
Some victims expressed frustration at the government’s response to the disaster.
“No one showed up — I don’t know where the politicians and (election) candidates are,” said a visibly angry Levi Lisondra, an elderly resident in Surigao City, on the northern tip of Mindanao.
“We paid big taxes when we were working and now they can’t help us.”
President Rodrigo Duterte visited some of the hardest-hit areas on Saturday and pledged to release two billion pesos (US$40 million) to assist recovery efforts.
Thousands of military, police, coast guard and fire personnel have been deployed to hard-hit areas.
Coast guard and naval vessels, as well as aircraft carrying food, water and medical supplies, have been dispatched, while heavy machinery — like backhoes and front-end loaders — have been sent to help clear roads blocked by fallen power poles and trees.
Rai hit the Philippines late in the typhoon season — most cyclones typically develop between July and October.
Scientists have long warned that typhoons are becoming more powerful and strengthening more rapidly as the world becomes warmer because of human-driven climate change.
The Philippines — ranked among the globe’s most vulnerable nations to the impacts of climate change — is hit by an average of 20 storms and typhoons every year, which typically wipe out harvests, homes and infrastructure in already impoverished areas.
Typhoon Haiyan, called Yolanda in the Philippines, was at the time the deadliest storm ever to have made landfall and left more than 7,300 people dead or missing. – with a report from Agence France Presse