Fears of more deaths in 'Pablo' aftermath

Posted at 12/05/2012 9:19 AM | Updated as of 12/05/2012 9:19 AM

MANILA, Philippines - Rescuers struggled to clear roads of debris in a bid to reach areas ravaged by Typhoon Pablo (international codename Bopha) in the Philippines Wednesday, as authorities said the toll could go higher than the initial 52 reported deaths.

After toppling trees, triggering deadly flash floods and mudslides and blowing away homes Tuesday, the typhoon had weakened overnight as it prepared to blow off into the South China Sea, forecasters said.

It was, however, still expected to dump rain as it passes over the western island of Palawan on Wednesday morning, potentially bringing more destruction, officials said.

Major General Ariel Bernardo, commanding general of the 10th Infantry Division which covers southern Mindanao island, said army camps had been heavily damaged by the storm, slowing down rescue operations.

He said the first military responders reached the mountain town of New Bataan late Monday, over 15 hours after Bopha made landfall on the eastern coast of the island.

"We have two companies setting off this morning to help in the search and rescue operations, but our military is also a victim of the storm," he said over radio station DZBB in Manila.

"In one of our headquarters, no bunkers were left standing and all our communication equipment had been destroyed."

He said an Army patrol base and a rescue truck in New Bataan had been washed away by flash floods.

Forty-four people were killed when rainwater gushed down from nearby slopes, creating a deadly cocktail of mud, logs and rocks that crushed everything in its path.

The small mountain pass leading to the town had been littered with fallen trees and rocks, virtually cutting it off from road traffic.

"We are hoping to fly our helicopters to conduct reconnaissance and search and recovery," Bernardo added.

Eight others were confirmed killed elsewhere, although he said the toll could still rise with reports from the field indicating more than 50 others had died in the nearby province of Davao Oriental.

Pablo made landfall on the eastern coast of Mindanao early Tuesday, bringing driving rain and strong winds, toppling trees and power lines, causing localized flooding and forcing more than 56,000 to seek refuge in emergency shelters.

It was the 16th storm this year to ravage the Philippines, which gets about 20 cyclones annually.

Typhoon Bopha comes after tropical storm Washi hit Mindanao in December last year, killing more than 1,200 and leaving hundreds of thousands homeless.