MANILA (Reuters) – Philippine authorities on Monday re-established contact with an island province briefly cut off after being hit by the strongest typhoon of the year, as officials said a forcible evacuation effort had averted more deaths than the 16 recorded up to now.
Three people have also been reported missing in provinces south of the main island of Luzon, the disaster agency said, with communications to some regions still down.
Typhoon Goni, which battered provinces south of the capital Manila, is the 18th to hit the Philippines this year and one of the strongest typhoons since Haiyan killed more than 6,300 people in 2013.
More than 13,000 homes, some engulfed by an up to five metre (16.4 ft) storm surge, were damaged as Goni, with wind gusts of up to 310 kph (190 mph), made landfall in Catanduanes on Sunday, provincial governor Joseph Cua told a news conference.
“While there’s no more typhoon, we have no air and sea transportation,” Cua said, adding that he hoped the country’s energy department could help restore power.
Catanduanes and Albay province, south of Luzon, took the brunt of the storm and accounted for all 16 deaths, the disaster agency said.
“We will not allow you to be isolated. We will not let you down,” presidential spokesman Harry Roque said.
Roughly 90% of infrastructure in Catanduanes was damaged, government data showed.
Philippine Red Cross chairman and senator Richard Gordon said in a statement “this typhoon has smashed into people’s lives and livelihoods on top of the relentless physical, emotional and economic toll of COVID-19.”
President Rodrigo Duterte made an aerial inspection of the damage on Monday. Flying from his hometown Davao, he landed in Guinobatan town near the Mayon volcano, the Philippines’ most active volcano.
Duterte ordered an investigation into quarrying operations that residents complained had led to the burial of hundreds of homes in volcanic rock and mud flows, presidential aide and senator Christopher Go told reporters.
Officials said the evacuation of more than 345,000 residents had averted more deaths.
“The goal should be zero casualties, but since people were forcibly evacuated our casualties were reduced,” Roque said.
Goni hit 2.1 million residents of Luzon, which accounts for more than two-thirds of the economy, leaving more than 50,000 homes without power by Monday.
Strong winds and torrential rain have damaged crops worth 1.1 billion pesos ($23 million), mainly rice and corn, Agriculture Secretary William Dar said.
Before Goni hit, the Philippines had been grappling with the impact of Typhoon Molave, which killed 22 people, most of whom drowned, in provinces south of Manila.
Another storm, Atsani, is gaining strength in the Pacific Ocean as it approaches the Philippines, which usually sees about 20 tropical storms every year.
Vietnam said Goni is forecast to hit its central coast on Wednesday night, dumping more heavy rain in an area where floods and landslides in the past month have already killed about 160 people, with dozens missing.
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