NEW BATAAN, Philippines — The Philippine government’s geological hazard maps show why this farming community was largely washed away by a strong typhoon: “highly susceptible to flooding and landslides." That didn’t stop some villagers from rebuilding even with bodies still lying under the mud.
Most of the about 420 people confirmed dead from Typhoon Bopha were killed in the steep valley that includes New Bataan, a town crisscrossed by rivers and cleared from lush hillsides by banana, coconut, cocoa and mango farmers in 1968. Flooding was so widespread here that places people thought were safe, including two emergency shelters, became among the deadliest.
In the impoverished Philippines, the jobless risk life and limb to feed their families and the government can do little beyond warning of the danger.
“It’s not only an environmental issue, it’s also a poverty issue," said Environment Secretary Ramon Paje. “The people would say, ‘We are better off here. At least we have food to eat or money to buy food, even if it is risky.’
“But somehow we would like to protect their lives and if possible give them other sources of livelihood so that we can take them out of these permanent danger zones," Paje said.
Nearly 400 people were missing today after the typhoon struck the southern Philippines this week.
After a night of pounding rain, floodwaters started rising around 4 a.m. Tuesday, trapping farmer Joseph Requinto, his wife and two young children in their house near a creek.
“After that I saw some people being swept away," he told The Associated Press. He climbed up a hill, carrying his children, and the family found shelter behind boulders that shielded them from coconut trees rolling down the hill.
“The water was as high as a coconut tree," he said. “All the bamboo trees, even the big ones, were all mowed down."