Heifer International Philippines country staff are all reported to be okay after Typhoon Bopha, with top sustained winds of 130 miles per hour, slammed into the Southern Philippines early Tuesday, setting off landslides, uprooting trees and destroying fragile homes in its path.
Hercules Paradiang, Heifer Philippines country director, said that while staff are safe, with one staff members parents home under water, damage is being reported among project families, including loss of homes, livestock, animal pens and fodder. There is no word on injuries or conditions of families at this time due to limited communications and impassable roadways.
We are very pleased to hear that Heifer staff members are safe, said Steve Denne, Heifers chief operating officer. We are working to learn more about the situation there and the impact upon Heifer project partner families, so that we may, as quickly as possible, support long-term agricultural recovery.
According to Paradiang, a Farmers Field School for swine was destroyed in one project community, and 250 homes were damaged, with 75 of them destroyed in another project area, along with damage to animal pens and lost feed and fodder. There has been a definite impact on animals, but an assessment will be needed for a better understanding.
Immediate needs of those affected by the storm are being met in the short term by the government, which pre-positioned goods and services, and by immediate-response agencies suited for the kind of work needed in the aftermath of a storm such as this.
The United Nations also plans to begin an official damage assessment in the country Wednesday, and Heifer staff in Little Rock continues to reach out to colleagues in the Philippines for updates and information about project families and their possessions.
What is known, from news reports, short-wave broadcasts and other official sources is that the nearly 400-mile wide storm has killed a number of people (unconfirmed reports range from 43 to as high as 80), according to the Philippines News Agency, the country's official news outlet.
The death toll is expected to rise once soldiers and police gain access to some far-flung villages isolated by floods, fallen trees and downed communications, but more than 57,000 people have been directly impacted as the storm demolished houses and stranded people in two Mindanao regions and parts of the Visaya islands.
A Philippines governor says at least 33 villagers and soldiers drowned when torrents of water from the powerful typhoon rushed down a mountain, engulfing the victims. Gov. Arturo Uy said the victims included villagers who had fled from their homes to a village hall, which was swamped by the flash flood. An army truck carrying soldiers and villagers also was washed away.
By mid-afternoon Tuesday (the Philippines is 14 hours ahead of Central Standard Time in the United States), a weaker Bopha headed for the Sulu Sea in the late afternoon, the Philippines weather service said. But it continued to soak a wide area with heavy rain, raising the risk of mudslides and flash floods.
The storm, dubbed "Pablo" in the Philippines, had blown up into a super typhoon at one point Monday as it moved over the ocean, with sustained winds greater than 160 mphthe equivalent of a Category 5 hurricane in the Atlantic Oceanbut it weakened before making landfall over the city of Baganga.
Officials in the Philippines report that early warning of the storm allowed people to prepare. Tens of thousands of people sought safety in evacuation centers and government shelters.
Because so many Heifer International project communities are in areas sensitive to climatic eventshurricanes, fires, floods, mudslides, etc.country programs develop Community-Managed Disaster Risk Reduction (CMDRR) plans to help prepare for and to mitigate events just such as this.
In the Philippines, identified as Heifers No. 1 country of concern for natural disasters due to typhoons and tropical storms, staff have instructed families how to prepare for events such as Typhoon Bopha, teaching them how to secure livestock and feed, to harvest ready crops for food for the family and to secure water and firewood. Theyve also been instructed to safeguard important papers, education material and cash and where to go for safety and shelter.
Heifer program officials plan to conduct an evaluation of the planning in the Philippines following Typhoon Bopha and to use the learnings to strengthen and improve the program so that all country offices and projects benefit from the disaster preparedness trainings.
Updates will continue to be provided as they become available.