Death toll from year’s deadliest typhoon in Philippines continues to climb


The death toll from the deadliest cyclone to hit the Philippines this year has climbed to 67, with 12 people still missing, the national disaster management agency has said.

President Rodrigo Duterte was scheduled to fly to the northern Tuguegarao province later in the day to assess the situation in Cagayan Valley region, which was heavily flooded after Typhoon Vamco dumped rain over swathes of the main Luzon island, including the capital, metropolitan Manila.

Twenty-two fatalities were recorded in Cagayan, 17 in southern Luzon provinces, eight in mMetro Manila and 20 in two other regions, said disaster agency spokesman Mark Timbal.

Twenty-one people were injured, he said.

Houses are submerged in flooded areas in Cagayan Valley region, northern Philippines.(AP: Philippine Coast Guard)

Many areas in Cagayan, a rice- and corn-producing region of 1.2 million people, remained submerged as of Sunday, according to media reports.

Heavy flooding, caused by the accumulated effects of previous weather disturbances, as well as water from a dam and higher plains, affected thousands of families, some of whom had fled to rooftops to escape two-storey-high floods.

Man carries girl
A man carries a girl through debris in a typhoon-damaged village in Rodriguez, Rizal province.(AP: Aaron Favila)

The damage to agricultural commodities due to floods was initially pegged at 1.2 billion pesos ($34.2 million), while infrastructure damage was estimated at 470 million pesos, Mr Timbal said.

Nearly 26,000 houses were also damaged, he said.

Relief and rescue operations continued while the nearby Magat Dam was still releasing water, two days after releasing a volume equivalent to two Olympic-size pools per second, based on government data.

Residents wade along a flooded road during rescue operations
Typhoon Vamco caused extensive flooding that sent residents fleeing to their roofs and killed dozens of people.(AP: Philippine Coast Guard)

Vamco, the 21st cyclone to hit the Philippines this year, tore through Luzon late on Wednesday and caused the worst flooding in years in parts of the capital.

It followed Super Typhoon Goni, the world’s most powerful storm this year, which brought heavy rain to southern Luzon provinces and killed scores of people just a few days earlier.

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Fatalities mount as Typhon Vamco lashes the Philippines.

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Philippines’ Duterte absolves police chief over COVID-19 lockdown birthday party


MANILA: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Saturday (Nov 14) cleared his newly appointed police chief of any violation of rules when he celebrated his birthday in May during one of the world’s strictest coronavirus lockdowns.

In a national address, Duterte defended police chief Debold Sinas, promoted on Monday to national police commander from Manila police boss, and noted his appointee’s achievements despite a social media stir over perceived special treatment.

Sinas had led anti-drug operations in which thousands of people were killed.

“If he has (committed) any offence, he is pardoned already. I do not see any wrongdoing with moral implications and malice,” Duterte said, adding that Sinas was not at fault for receiving a surprise festivity.

Sinas has been under investigation by the justice ministry for celebrating his birthday with fellow officers in May despite coronavirus curbs and at a time police were arresting thousands of people for quarantine violations. He has apologised for “causing anxiety to the public”.

It was not immediately clear if Duterte’s comments meant those investigations were no longer active. Contacted for comment by Reuters, justice minister Menardo Guevarra said in a text message: “I did not hear what the president said exactly. I need to know the context.”

Sinas’s appointment to lead the Philippines’ 200,000-strong police force was met with activists’ concerns of unchecked human rights abuses. Rights group say the police had summarily executed suspects, but police say those suspects had violently resisted arrest. 

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Vietnam braces for Typhoon Vamco, 53 dead in Philippines



Philippine Coast Guard conduct a rescue operation, after Typhoon Vamco resulted in severe flooding, in the Cagayan Valley region in northeastern Philippines, November 13, 2020. Mandatory credit PHILIPPINE COAST GUARD/Handout via REUTERS

November 14, 2020

By Khanh Vu and Neil Jerome Morales

HANOI/MANILA (Reuters) – Vietnam was bracing for Typhoon Vamco to make landfall in the country’s central coast early on Sunday, as the death toll in the Philippines rose to 53 from that country’s deadliest storm this year.

Packing winds of up to 165 kph (103 mph), Vamco is forecast to hit a swathe of Vietnam’s coast from Ha Tinh to Quang Ngai province, the government’s weather agency said on Saturday.

“This is a very strong typhoon,” Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc said, warning provinces in Vamco’s projected path to prepare for its impact.

The provinces plan to evacuate 468,000 people by the end of Saturday, state media cited the government’s disaster management authority as saying.

Vietnam is prone to destructive storms and flooding due to its long coastline. Vamco will be the 13th storm that affects the Southeast Asian country this year, where more than 160 people have been killed in natural disasters triggered by a series of storms since early October.

“There has been no respite for more than eight million people living in central Vietnam,” said Nguyen Thi Xuan Thu, Vietnam Red Cross Society President. “Each time they start rebuilding their lives and livelihoods, they are pummelled by yet another storm.”

In the Philippines, coast guard and disaster agencies scrambled on Saturday to rescue thousands in a northern province after the 21st cyclone to hit the Philippines this year tore through the main island of Luzon late on Wednesday and early Thursday.

Vamco has killed at least 53 people, injured 52 and left 22 missing in the Philippines, according to the Philippines police and army.

(Reporting by Khanh Vu in Hanoi and Neil Jerome Morales in Manila; Editing by William Mallard)





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At least 39 dead in the Philippines as Typhoon Vamco causes extensive flooding


Thick mud and debris coated many villages around the Philippines capital after a typhoon caused extensive flooding that sent people fleeing to their roofs and killed at least 39 people.

Thousands of people have been rescued, though waters have mostly receded. The military was rescuing people in places where waters remained high.

Amphibious assault vehicles usually used in counter-insurgency operations were deployed for the rescue work, military chief of staff General Gilbert Gapay said on Friday in an emergency meeting with disaster-response officials.

“We’ll continue to look for the missing, help in damage assessment,” Gapay said. He reported 39 deaths and 32 other people missing.

Typhoon Vamco passed north of Manila between Bulacan and Pampanga provinces overnight on Wednesday and early Thursday, toppling power poles and trees and damaging homes.

Thousands of houses submerged in roof-level floods in Kasiglahan, Rodriguez, Rizal

Jell Morena

More than 350,000 people had been evacuated to safety, mainly residents fleeing vulnerable coastal and low-lying areas before the typhoon hit.

Philippine National Police said more than 100,000 people had been rescued, including 41,000 in the capital region.

At least 3.8 million households lost power in metropolitan Manila and outlying provinces, but crews have restored electricity in many areas and power was expected to be fully restored in about three days. Government offices were closed and classes suspended for public schools Friday.

Vamco hit the Philippines on the heels of Typhoon Goni, one of the strongest typhoons in the world this year, which left more than 30 people dead or missing and damaged or destroyed 270,000 houses. Tens of thousands of people remain displaced.

The Philippines is hit by about 20 typhoons and tropical storms each year and also had active seismic faults and volcanoes, making it one of the world’s most disaster-prone countries.



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Typhoon-Ravaged Northeast Philippines Pummeled by New Storm – The Diplomat


ASEAN Beat | Society | Southeast Asia

Typhoon Vamco has led to evacuation of 200,000 people, and left nearly 2 million without power.

A resident uses a plastic container as a floater while negotiating rising floodwaters in Marikina, Philippines due to Typhoon Vamco on Nov. 12, 2020.

Credit: AP Photo/Aaron Favila

A typhoon swelled rivers and flooded low-lying areas as it passed over the storm-battered northeastern Philippines, leaving at least 13 people dead and 15 others missing, officials said Thursday.

The Philippine National Police reported the casualty figures, but gave no details.

Typhoon Vamco passed north of Manila between Bulacan and Pampanga provinces, toppling trees and knocking out power. Officials said earlier that nearly 200,000 people had been evacuated, some forcibly, from vulnerable coastal and low-lying areas.

Officials said about 1.9 million households were without power in Metro Manila and nearby provinces. Many electricity poles were toppled, power lines were knocked down and power transformers were damaged.

President Rodrigo Duterte took a break from an online summit of Southeast Asian leaders to fly by helicopter over the affected areas.

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“As president I guarantee you that your government will do its best to provide assistance in the form of shelters, relief goods, financial aid and post-disaster counseling. Rest assured, the government will not leave anybody behind. We will get through this crisis,” Duterte said in a televised address.

Rescue teams were deployed to flooded areas in Rizal province, coast guard chief Adm. George Ursabia told DZBB radio.

Marikina city Mayor Marcie Teodoro said fierce winds knocked down power lines overnight, leaving many areas without power and internet service. Heavy rains also flooded many areas and the Marikina River was swollen. Many people in Marikina city were waiting to be rescued from roofs.

“There are many areas that historically don’t get flooded but now they are swamped, like city hall,” he told DZBB radio.

Mark Timbal, spokesman for the government’s disaster response agency, said 363 rescue teams had been deployed consisting of 1,000 rescuers with at least 40 rubber boats.

The typhoon had maximum sustained winds of 130 kilometers per hour with stronger gusts Thursday morning. It was moving west-northwest at 30 kilometers per hour and was headed for the South China Sea.

The government’s main disaster-response agency had pleaded to the media to relay typhoon alerts in northeastern areas devastated by an earlier typhoon, Goni, saying the agency’s messages could not be sent by cellphones due to damaged telecommunications systems.

Goni, one of the strongest typhoons in the world this year, left more than 30 people dead or missing and damaged or destroyed more than 270,000 houses, many in coastal villages. Tens of thousands of people remain displaced.

The Philippines is hit by about 20 typhoons and tropical storms each year. It is located on the Pacific “Ring of Fire,” where earthquakes and volcanic eruptions are common, making it one of the world’s most disaster-prone countries.

By Jim Gomez for the Associated Press in Manila, Philippines. Associated Press journalists Aaron Favila and Joeal Calupitan contributed to this report.



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Typhoon Vamco hits the Philippines, hundreds of thousands evacuated


Citing national police, CNN Philippines reported a 68-year-old and 70-year-old were among those killed. More than 180,000 people were evacuated as the typhoon battered the country, hitting many of the same communities that were devastated by Super Typhoon Goni just 10 days before.

Typhoon Vamco, referred to as Ulysses in the Philippines, is equivalent in force to a Category 2 hurricane, according to the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA). It made its first landfall at 11 p.m. local time near Patnanungan, Quezon, then continued moving westward, making a second landfall in Luzon. According to PAGASA, the storm has caused flooding and two to three meters of storm surge. The agency warned the rains could cause landslides.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said the impact of the storm in central Luzon is particularly damaging because it is hitting the same 1.6 million people affected by Super Typhoon Goni. Vamco is the fifth storm to impact the Philippines in just over three weeks.

“The Red Cross holds particularly grave concerns for more than 240,000 people who lost their homes to Typhoon Goni, especially those who are living in makeshift shelters along the coast as this latest storm hits,” the organization said in a statement, adding that the situation is particularly dire because local government emergency response funds have been depleted by the coronavirus pandemic.

Scientists are warning that climate change is making storms like this more destructive. A study published in May said it was becoming increasingly evident that hurricanes, typhoons, and tropical cyclones worldwide are becoming stronger and potentially more deadly as the globe warms due to the climate crisis.

“These non-stop storms are slamming our communities during a deadly pandemic, making this one of the most complicated disaster responses ever,” Richard Gordon, Philippine Red Cross chairman, said in a statement.

Philippine Interior Secretary Eduardo Año was quoted by PNA as saying the search and rescue operations were ongoing across Luzon, especially in the affected areas in Cainta, Montalban, and San Mateo in Rizal and Metro Manila, particularly in Marikina City, which has suffered from flooding.

Marikina Mayor Marcy Teodoro told reporters on Thursday that the air rescue efforts were hampered by the weather and appealed for more rescue resources to be made available as the city was overwhelmed by the number of residents trapped on the rooftops of their flooded homes.

A Marikina resident clings to a plastic container as floodwaters hit the area.

More than 25,000 police officers have been deployed to assist in disaster response, according to PNA.

Situation reports from the command center indicated 411 flooded areas, 519 areas without electricity, and 104 areas without telecommunication service, the Philippine National Police Chief General Debold Sinas told PNA.

According to PAGASA, the center of the storm is moving away from the Philippines and heading towards Vietnam. The long term forecast from the Joint Typhoon Warning Center shows a weaker Vamco is likely to affect Vietnam this weekend, with more flooding possible.



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Facebook Removed A Chinese Propaganda Network Targeting The Philippines, Southeast Asia, And The US


Facebook announced the removal of two separate networks that used fake identities to promote government propaganda.

The first network was located in China. While it targeted the US, its primary focus was the Philippines and countries in Southeast Asia. This is the second time Facebook removed Pages associated with this campaign, the company said, and this time the people running it used a VPN to try to hide their identities.

“Although the people behind this activity attempted to conceal their identities and coordination, our investigation found links to individuals in the Fujian province of China,” Facebook said in a statement announcing the takedown.

The propaganda operation consisted of Pages and Instagram accounts, but its primary focus was running fake identities on Facebook which were used to amplify content. People running profiles “posed as locals,” the release said.

The network targeted the US, but that wasn’t its primary focus. Accounts posted about Democratic presidential candidates Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg and as well as President Donald Trump, both in support and opposition.

The fake accounts were also used to “like and comment on other people’s posts, particularly about naval activity in the South China Sea, including US Navy ships.”

Naval activity was also the focus of the network targeting people in Southeast Asia, along with posts supporting Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.

Overall, the network affected about 194,000 people and spent $60 on ads using Chinese yuan. Six Instagram accounts, nine groups, and 115 Facebook accounts were removed.

The second network removed by Facebook originated in and targeted the Philippines. It consisted of 31 pages, 57 Facebook accounts, and 20 Instagram accounts.

Facebook investigated the propaganda network after being alerted to it by Rappler, an independent news organization in the country that Duterte has targeted. The propaganda network supported the Philippine president and posted about a variety of political topics, accelerating its activity between 2019 and 2020.

“Although the people behind this activity attempted to conceal their identities, our investigation found links to Philippine military and Philippine police,” the Facebook announcement said.

Those entities spent $1,100 on advertising on the platform.



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India and the Philippines Must Focus on Climate Change and Disaster Management – The Diplomat


India and the Philippines held the 4th meeting of the Joint Commission on Bilateral Cooperation virtually on November 6. The meeting was co-chaired by Indian External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and Secretary of the Philippines Department of Foreign Affairs Theodore Locsin. According to an Indian readout of the meeting, “they agreed to further strengthen defence engagement and maritime cooperation between the two countries, especially in military training and education, capacity building, regular good-will visits, and procurement of defence equipment.”

The readout also mentions cooperation around combating the COVID-19 pandemic, counterterrorism, trade and investment, agriculture, capacity development, educational exchanges, visas and other issues.

“On regional and international issues, both sides agreed to coordinate closely at multilateral fora. EAM and Secretary Locsin reaffirmed their commitment to a multifaceted partnership in line with India’s Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative (IPOI) and the ASEAN’s Outlook on Indo-Pacific to achieve shared security, prosperity and growth for all in the region,” the readout also notes.

While the Indian readout suggests that both sides apparently covered the entire gamut of issues facing both countries — which, cynics would suggest, imply that the meeting lacked substance — it was marked by a significant absence: cooperation to combat natural disasters and associated humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HA/DR) efforts found no explicit mention.

To be sure, the 10-nation Association for Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and India formally remains committed to jointly fighting climate change. India’s Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative flagged off by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the East Asia Summit last November also includes disaster prevention and management as an area of focus. But India and the Philippines would both be better off with greater bilateral cooperation in these areas as well.

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As an example, India’s record at evacuating large number of people ahead of devastating cyclones – as became clear with Cyclone Fani last May as it was about to make landfall in the eastern coastal state of Odisha – has earned the country much-deserved praise. The evacuation plan which involved “2.6 million text messages, 43,000 volunteers, nearly 1,000 emergency workers, television commercials, coastal sirens, buses, police officers, and public address systems blaring the same message on a loop …” as the New York Times described it, proved to be very effective as lives lost from the super cyclone was minimal.

But this was simply not a matter of communicating a message across to the affected public effectively. It also involved “the almost pinpoint accuracy” of Indian meteorological early warnings which had led authorities to craft an appropriate evacuation plan, as United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction described the response while praising it.

The Philippines’ challenge with extreme weather events became glaringly clear once again in the beginning of this month when Super Typhon Goni hit Catanduanes island and Albay province, causing massive infrastructure damage as the Philippines government found itself scrambling for a response.

To be sure, geography necessarily dictates differences in response to extreme weather events, between what needs to be done for islands versus a peninsula. That said, India’s experience in early warning, resilient infrastructure construction, as well as evacuation planning are all things the Philippines could profitably learn from.

Both India and the Philippines also stand to benefit from much greater dialogue around long-term effects of climate change and ways to address climate-change induced migration which feeds into gender issues, violence and conflict. India is contemplating a “managed retreat” plan for residents of the Sundarbans, the world’s largest mangrove delta – a plan, scholars have argued, that does not address underlying socio-economic and cultural costs. There is much common ground between the two countries to push dialogue on these issues on to their bilateral agenda.

Such “softer” issues may not be exciting enough for many, compared to the possibility of hard political-military cooperation. But, given fundamental strategic differences in the Philippines’ and India’s thinking about China, there is a firm ceiling to what the two can do together in that space. On the other hand, cooperation around disaster planning and climate change is a low-hanging fruit which, patiently pursued, may lead to deeper relations in the future, bringing with itself strategic gains for both countries.



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Powerful typhoon slams into Philippines, killing at least 7


MANILA, Philippines — A powerful super typhoon slammed into the eastern Philippines with ferocious winds Sunday, killing at least seven people and causing volcanic mudflows to bury houses before weakening as it blew toward Manila, where the capital’s main airport was shut down, officials said.

Typhoon Goni hit the island province of Catanduanes at dawn with sustained winds of 225 kilometers (140 miles) per hour and gusts of 280 kph (174 mph). It was barreling west toward densely populated regions, including Manila, and rain-soaked provinces still recovering from a typhoon that hit a week ago and left at least 22 people dead.

Gov. Al Francis Bichara said at least four people were killed in his hard-hit province of Albay, including a father and son who were in a rural community that was hit by mudflows and boulders swept down from Mayon Volcano by heavy rains. Villagers fled to safety as the typhoon approached, but the two apparently stayed put, he said.

“The child was found 15 kilometers (9 miles) away,” Bichara told DZMM radio, adding that the child was swept away by mudflows and floodwaters.

Three other villagers, including one pinned down by a tree, were killed in Albay, the Office of Civil Defense said.

Ricardo Jalad, who heads the government’s disaster-response agency, said the typhoon’s destructive force was capable of causing major damage. “There are so many people who are really in vulnerable areas,” he said.

The Philippine weather agency reinforced those concerns, saying that within 12 hours after the typhoon blasted into shore, people would experience “catastrophic, violent winds and intense to torrential rainfall.”

Residents were warned of likely landslides, massive flooding, storm surges of up to 5 meters (16 feet) and powerful winds that can blow away shanties. But as in past storms, some refused to heed the warnings.

In Quezon province, villager Diane Joco scrambled with her husband, parents, siblings and cousin out of their flimsy houses on stilts on the shore of Calauag town, but stayed close by in a neighbor’s sturdier house near the coast to guard their own homes.

“We should be nearby to be able to repair any damage to our house quickly, otherwise it will fall apart and be blown away. We have no other house,” Joco said by phone. She suddenly yelled as she spoke, saying that a part of the tin roof of her neighbor’s house was nearly ripped off by a frightening gust.

One of the most powerful typhoons in the world this year, Goni has evoked memories of Typhoon Haiyan, which left more than 7,300 people dead or missing, flattened entire villages, swept ships inland and displaced more than 5 million in the central Philippines in November 2013.

Goni weakened before nightfall, with sustained winds of 165 kph (102 mph) and gusts of up to 230 kph (143 mph), but remained dangerously strong, forecasters said.

Jalad, the disaster-response official, said nearly a million people were preemptively moved into emergency shelters.

Forecasters said the typhoon’s eye may pass about 70 kilometers (43 miles) south of metropolitan Manila, the sprawling capital region of more than 13 million people, around nightfall on Sunday.

In a Manila gymnasium that was turned into an emergency shelter, displaced residents worried about COVID-19 outbreaks. The Philippines has had more than 383,000 cases of the virus, the second-most in Southeast Asia behind Indonesia.

“We are scared — our fears are doubled,” said Jaqueline Almocera, a 44-year-old street vendor who took cover at the shelter. “The people here are mixed, unlike when you’re at home, safe and we don’t go out. Here you interact with other evacuees.”

Hundreds of COVID-19 patients were moved to hospitals and hotels from tent quarantine centers as the typhoon blew closer to the country, Jalad said.

The Philippines is lashed by about 20 typhoons and storms each year. It’s also located on the so-called Pacific “Ring of Fire,” where earthquakes and volcanic eruptions are common, making it one of the world’s most disaster-prone countries.

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Associated Press photojournalist Aaron Favila contributed to this report.



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