Tropical storm wreaks havoc in the Philippines

Monday, December 19, 2011

ACT member organisations in the Philippines are assessing damage wreaked by Tropical Storm Washi on December 16, with one focusing on the area where Washi made landfall.

Washi caught thousands of people unaware as they slept, as the course of the storm followed a more southerly trajectory than most tropical storms and typhoons in the Philippines.

“Heavy rainfall also coincided with high tide, so that the water couldn't flow to the sea. Flood waters rose as high as the second floor of some houses and the rooftops of others at a time when people were asleep,” said Femia Baldeo, country director of ACT member Lutheran World Relief (LWR).

“The area that is not in the path of the typhoon is not well prepared. We last had a typhoon around 25 years ago.”

The Filipino government reported this morning that 508 people had been killed and an additional 468 were missing.

Today LWR teams were in northern Mindanao at Surigao del Sur, where the storm hit, assessing the damage and establishing the needs of survivors.

National and local government assistance was being supplemented by the World Food Programme and a variety of NGOs, who are providing food for 52,000 people across 18 evacuation centres, Baldeo said.

UNOCHA reported that 146,550 people were affected, a figure that is likely to rise as national authorities gather and consolidate additional information.

Over 400 families were days away from harvest at a LWR seaweed cultivation project at Surigao del Sur. “I was there on Wednesday and saw that people were really excited about harvesting, possibly this week, so that they would have money for the Christmas celebration. But everything was washed out to sea,” Baldeo said.

LWR plans to offer project beneficiaries cash to buy necessities, rather than distribute relief.

The National Council of Churches in the Philippines has advanced US $2,000 to a member church to respond to survivors’ immediate needs and will offer further emergency response as information about the disaster becomes available.

Irregular power supplies to much of the affected area are restricting the quantity of information coming from the region.