AS storm death toll passes 100 in Philippines, survivors recall rushing waters

Thursday, November 8th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

MAHINOG, Philippines (AP) _ Tropical storm Lingling battered the Philippines for a second day Thursday, leaving at least 108 people dead, sinking a cargo ship and virtually shutting down several provinces as it crawled across the country.

The death toll included 78 in Mahinog town on the resort island of Camiguin, which suffered its worst disaster in a half-century. With 300 people missing, officials said the overall toll was likely to rise.

Nineteen of those killed were Filipino crewmen on a cargo ship that sank Thursday in stormy seas off the northwestern Philippines. There was no word on survivors, as the poor weather hampered rescue efforts.

Workers in Mahinog, which reported 203 people missing, scurried to embalm dozens of corpses to avoid an outbreak of disease in the steamy tropical heat. Urgent requests went out for chainsaws to cut through trees and other debris, and for anyone with a shovel to help dig through tons of mud.

But the devastation was so complete _ only five houses were still standing in Hubangon, one of the villages that make up Mahinog _ that it was hard to tell where most homes had stood.

``I saw the people, the children, the innocent who died,'' Camiguin Gov. Pedro Romualdo said, sobbing as he spoke to ABS-CBN television. ``It's the first time I've seen something like this.''

Fast-moving flood waters bearing boulders cascaded from hills around Hibok-Hibok, one of seven volcanoes on the island, into mountain villages in Mahinog and riverside communities in Catarman as most people were still sleeping Wednesday.

Casiano Matela, regional director of the provincial Office of Civil Defense, said residents reported hearing a thunderous water spout _ a tornado over water _ before the flash floods hit.

Police officer Romeo Jaguilma and his family survived in Hubangon by climbing on the roof of their concrete house, which withstood the flood waters, and clutching their children in the darkness as he sang a hymn. They could hear cries for help from their neighbors over the rushing water all around them.

``The noise was very deafening,'' said Jaguilma's wife Lorna, 36. ``It sounded like a hundred trucks and a hundred boats all arriving at the same time.''

Her husband said he also could hear boulders hitting the side of the house. Three coconut trees and two small fruit trees provided some protection.

Dozens of corpses, mostly elderly and children, were lined up on a basketball court in Mahinog as people nervously inspected posted lists of the dead and missing.

``We have to bury them this afternoon; otherwise they will cause a stench and pose health risks,'' Mahinog Mayor Benedicto Castanares said as about 20 workers made coffins in the back of the gymnasium.

Camiguin normally avoids the worst from the typhoon season that batters the Southeast Asian nation every year because most storms track to the north, but a four-hour pre-dawn deluge took residents by surprise.

Damaged roads and a destroyed bridge prevented rescuers from reaching some communities.

``The highway appeared like a river bed, and you could see uprooted trees,'' Romualdo said. ``All roads are heavily damaged. I still cannot believe what happened.''

He said the storm was the biggest calamity to hit Camiguin since 1951, when Hibok-Hibok volcano erupted, killing 500 people.

About 5,000 of Camiguin's 74,000 people were evacuated from the island 440 miles southeast of Manila. Romualdo said the island's well-known tourist resorts escaped serious damage from Lingling.

Flooding hit other parts of the Philippines as the storm moved northwest. Two girls were killed in Toledo City in central Cebu province, and eight in Negros Occidental province, where about 40,000 people were evacuated and officials declared a state of calamity.

The storm knocked out electricity and flooded many parts of central Leyte, Samar and Bacolod provinces, where many schools were closed.

The storm was forecast to move northwest out of the Philippines by Friday.