LANDSLIDES and flash floods unleased by Severe Tropical Storm Vinta (international codename: Tembin) have killed at least 164 people and left 171 others missing in the Philippines, according to Romina Marasigan of the government's main disaster-response agency.
Initial reports from officials in different provinces placed the overall death toll at more than 230, but Marasigan warned of double counting amid the confusion in the storm's aftermath and said the numbers needed to be verified.
More than 97,000 people remained in 261 evacuation centers across the southern Philippines on Monday, while nearly 85,000 others were displaced and staying elsewhere, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) said.
In a briefing Monday night, December 25, NDRRMC executive director Ricardo Jalad said the number of families affected by Vinta has climbed to 117,528 or 550,805 persons living in 1,019 barangays in eight regions in the Visayas and Mindanao.
Jalad said that of the 164 persons reported dead, 65 were from Zamboanga Peninsula, 75 from Northern Mindanao, and 24 from the ARMM. However, these figures are still being validated along with the 170 reported missing.
Jalad said that Zamboanga Peninsula and Caraga regions sustained P52.09 million worth of agricultural damage while Zamboanga and Northern Mindanao sustained P161.71 million worth of infrastructure damage.
The local governments of Tambulig, Zamboanga Del Sur; Bacolod, Lanao Del Norte; and Lanao Del Norte declared a state of calamity.
Meanwhile, Vinta was downgraded to a tropical depression Tuesday, December 26, and failed to make landfall in Vietnam.
Hundreds of thousands of people in Vietnam's Mekong Delta had been evacuated as the region braced for the arrival of the storm.
Weather forecasters had expected the delta's southern tip to be in its path, and said heavy rain and strong winds starting Monday night could cause serious damage in the vulnerable region, where facilities are not built to cope with such severe weather.
By Tuesday morning, the storm was downgraded to a tropical depression and forecasters said it would not make landfall in Vietnam.
The storm was expected to dissipate over the Gulf of Thailand later Tuesday.
The hardest-hit areas in the Philippines were Lanao del Norte and Lanao del Sur provinces and the Zamboanga Peninsula.
Vinta hit the Philippines as a tropical storm but strengthened into a typhoon before blowing out of the country Sunday into the South China Sea toward Vietnam.
Officials had warned villagers in accident-prone areas to evacuate early as Tembin approached and the government was trying to find out what caused the widespread storm deaths, Marasigan said. She added that it was difficult to move people from homes shortly before Christmas.
"We don't want to be dragging people out of their homes days before Christmas, but it's best to convince them to quietly understand the importance of why they are being evacuated," Marasigan said at a news conference in Manila.
Vinta was among a series of disasters to hit the predominantly Roman Catholic Philippines at the peak of Christmas preparations.
An inter-island ferry sank off northeastern Quezon province Thursday, December 21, after being lashed by fierce winds and big waves, leaving at least five people dead. More than 250 passengers and crewmen were rescued.
Earlier in the week, another tropical storm left more than 50 people dead and 31 others missing, mostly due to landslides, and damaged more than 10,000 houses in central Philippines. (AP with PNA)