MANILA (Updated) — Army, police and civilian volunteers scrambled Monday to rescue hundreds of villagers trapped in their flooded homes and on rooftops in a northern Philippine province battered by slow-moving Tropical Storm Lando (international name: Koppu).
The severe tropical storm, which hit Luzon as a typhoon, blew ashore into Aurora province with fierce wind and heavy rains early Sunday, leaving at least three dead, forcing thousands of villagers from their homes, and leaving nine provinces without electricity.
But after its landfall, the typhoon weakened, hemmed in by the Sierra Madre mountain range and a high pressure area in the country's north and another typhoon far out in the Pacific in the east, government forecasters said.
By Monday afternoon, Lando was located over Ilocos Norte province with winds of 105 kilometers per hour and gusts of up to 135 kph.
The storm may leave the Philippine Area of Responsibility this weekend, forecasters said.
Several of the affected provinces, led by Nueva Ecija, were inundated by flash floods that swelled rivers and cascaded down mountainsides, trapping villagers in their homes and on rooftops, said Nigel Lontoc of the Office of Civil Defense.
"There were some people who needed to be rescued from the roofs of their homes," Lontoc told The Associated Press by telephone on Monday. "But our rescuers couldn't penetrate because the floodwaters were still high."
The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) reported that communications were down in the towns of Dinalungan, Casiguran and Dilasag after the typhoon pummel the three areas.
Alexander Pama, NDRRMC director, said severe flooding hit Isabela particularly in Santa Maria and Echague towns and in Ilagan City.
Hundreds of soldiers, police and volunteers have converged on Nueva Ecija, a landlocked, rice-growing province in Luzon, to help villagers whose homes had been flooded, said Lontoc, adding there have been no deaths reported so far in Nueva Ecija's flooding.
The floods affected 5,852 families or a total of 23,035 individuals, while 5,580 passengers were stranded at various seaports.
Authorities suspended dozens of flights to and from Laoag, Cauayan, Tuguegarao and Basco, Batanes; and sea voyages.
Many cities, including in Metro Manila, canceled classes on Monday.
Erwin Jacinto, a 37-year-old resident of Nueva Ecija's Santa Rosa town, said the flooding turned his farmland into "nothing but mud."
Jacinto spoke from the top of a high-level bridge that juts out from his flooded town and where dozens of farm villagers like him stayed in the open overnight with their families, and their pigs and chickens.
Flooding was also reported in Cagayan, Bulacan, and Catanduanes while 13 landslide incidents were recorded in Quirino, Aurora, Pampanga, Catanduanes, Apayao, Benguet, Ifugao, Kalinga and Mt. Province.
The NDRRMC said 38 road sections and 18 bridges were not passable due to flooding and landslides in the areas badly hit by the typhoon.
A total of 56 houses were damaged, three of which were totally wrecked while 53 were partially damaged.
Authorities report landslides in the towns of Balbalan, Pinukpuk, Tinglayan and Tanudan in Kalinga province.
Lando's winds knocked down trees and electric posts, leaving nine provinces without power. Power outages were reported in northern Luzon, including Quirino, Nueva Vizcaya, Aurora, Apayao and Kalinga.
Initial estimated damage due to the typhoon was placed at P520,000, according to NDRRMC.
Rannel Castillo, 14, was pinned to death on Sunday by a fallen tree, which also injured four people and damaged three houses in metropolitan Manila.
In Subic town, northwest of Manila, a concrete wall collapsed and killed Benita Famanilay, 62, and injured her husband, officials said.
A landslide killed Fernando Laso Gumpad, 57, in Bakun, Benguet last Sunday. Five people got injured and one remained missing.
President Benigno Aquino III and disaster-response agencies had warned that Lando's rain and winds may potentially bring more damage with its slow speed.
But government forecasters said that there was less heavy rain than expected initially in some areas, including in Manila, but that fierce winds lashed many regions.
Local Government Secretary Mel Sarmiento commended the Philippine National Police for its immediate disaster response but said that policemen responding such emergencies should wear protective clothing.
Cops who responded to the disaster were clad in their blue t-shirt and shorts athletic uniforms as they wade through the flood waters.
"Nais kong tugunan ang pangangailangan sa mga tamang kasuotan ng mga pulis sa pagre-rescue tuwing may kalamidad para naman hindi ang kanilang buhay ay napupunta sa alanganin," he said.
"Ni-risk nila 'yung buhay nila para ma-rescue ang ilan nating mga kababayan at tinitingnan din natin ang kanilang welfare kung pano maimprove," Sarmiento added.
(Video by Third Anne Peralta-Malonzo/Sunnex)
PNP chief Director General Ricardo Marquez said they are pushing that the police forces be included in the humanitarian assistance and disaster response training conducted by the Armed Forces.
"'Pag sobrang lamig ay nakababad ang mga tao doon, it's a very challenging operations and they need a proper training," he said. (AP/Third Anne Peralta-Malonzo/Joy Anne Enriquez, UST intern/Sunnex)