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No safe ground from Pablo's fury

200 bodies found, 500 missing in Compostela
Residents pick up the pieces of their lives after Typhoon Pablo landed in Compostela Valley (From

DAVAO CITY, Philippines – The farming town of New Bataan in Compostela Valley lies far from the river, so residents thought they were safe from flooding as typhoon “Pablo” barreled across Mindanao.

At around 4 a.m. on Tuesday, however, amid raging wind and pounding rain, residents heard a thunderous sound.

And then a wall of mud and debris, followed by rampaging waters, came crashing down into the town.

In minutes, houses were washed away and two army camps manned by troops preparing for search and rescue operations were wiped out. Similar scenes played out in other parts of the province.

Compostela Gov. Arthur Uy said that as of early last night, they had retrieved at least 200 bodies around the province, with over 500 still missing.

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In the gold-rush town of Diwalwal, thousands of small-scale miners, seeing their shanties destroyed by the typhoon, fled to what they thought was the safety of the lowlands. What they found instead in the town center of Monkayo were the remains of over 100 people, laid out on the grounds of the municipal hall.

“Mt. Diwalwal is now like a ghost town,” Uy said.

The mining town is currently inaccessible even by motorcycle.

At least 42 civilians and four Army soldiers have been confirmed killed in New Bataan, one of the places hardest hit by Pablo. Seven other soldiers are still missing. 1Lt. Alex Deazeta, Charlie company commander, was among those rescued. He is confined in an undisclosed hospital.

“It was the first time in many years for us here in Compostela Valley that we experienced such powerful winds and raging flood waters,” said Emmanuel Mahilo, 44, a resident of Purok 5 in Barangay Poblacion.

Another resident, Gildo Gabato, told Bombo Radyo he could not believe the volume of water that inundated many villages in New Bataan.

Lt. Col. Lyndon Paneza, spokesman for the Army’s 10th Infantry Division based in Mawab town, said heavy rains dumped by Pablo in the province on Monday triggered a landslide in the mountains that blocked an upstream river in New Bataan.

Before 8 a.m. on Tuesday, the river burst its banks and mud and water came rampaging down to New Bataan.

“Our troops and the civilian residents in New Bataan never expected the flash flood as the area is far from the river,” Paneza said.

The flood washed away the 66th Infantry Battalion base in New Bataan and the patrol base of Charlie Company in Barangay Andap.

As of yesterday, the Army leadership had confirmed the deaths of four of its soldiers while seven others were still missing in New Bataan.

Paneza said troops were currently focused on finding survivors.

In the town of Monkayo, Vice Mayor Avelino Cabag said Pablo’s gale-force winds blew away all roofs, including those of the municipal hall, the police office and a municipal gym that housed thousands of evacuees.

Governor Uy appealed for food, water and clothing for the province.

In Zamboanga, residents were glad to be spared the brunt of Pablo. Yesterday, at least 275 families left evacuation centers and returned home.

Nelinda Saroy, a 37-year-old mother of three, said her family had prepared for the worst and were glad that Zamboanga was spared.

Some villages in Katipunan were briefly flooded, but rain and wind were not as strong as residents expected. (From