Rescuers carry a body bag containing a landslide victim triggered by heavy rains during Typhoon Mangkhut, in Itogon, Benguet province on September 18, 2018.
Photo: AFP/Ted Aljibe
Rescuers carry a body bag containing a landslide victim triggered by heavy rains during Typhoon Mangkhut, in Itogon, Benguet province on September 18, 2018. Photo: AFP/Ted Aljibe

The Philippines is still reeling days after Typhoon Mangkhut made landfall in its northernmost reaches, with officials only beginning to come to terms with the super storm’s economic and humanitarian costs.

The typhoon, known locally as “Ompong”, adversely affected as many as 800,000 Filipinos, according to the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC), a government agency.

According to the Philippine National Police (PNP), the death toll was 74 as of Tuesday, four days after the typhoon first hit. Many more are presumed missing. The vast majority of the casualties were from the mountainous region of Cordillera, where heavy rain caused deadly landslides.

The PNP has deployed the elite Special Action Force (SAF) and the Philippine Coast Guard unleashed K-9 dogs on ongoing search and rescue missions in crashed mines at Itogon in the Benguet province.

Up to 44 bodies have so far been recovered from various sites, but around 66 mine workers in the town are still considered missing. An earthquake that caused tremors that measured 3.7 on the Richter scale on September 18 did not deter the rescue efforts, according to officials.

Rescuers search for victims of a landslide triggered by heavy rains during Typhoon Mangkhut in Itogon, Benguet province on September 18, 2018. Photo: AFP/Ted Aljibe 

The government has placed several provinces under a state of calamity amid the widespread death and destruction, particularly in the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR). Other heavily affected provinces are in the northern Ilocos Region and Cagayan Valley.

An estimated 162,000 people are now being housed in 1,780 evacuation centers across affected areas. The NDRMMC says that as many as 215 roads and five bridges were damaged by the typhoon, while about 130 homes were completely destroyed and 1,134 others partially damaged in northern, and to a lesser degree, central Luzon, the archipelagic nation’s main island.

Various government agencies, including the Department of Social Welfare and Development, Office of Civil Defense, Department of Health, as well as local government units and civil society groups, are now providing assistance to affected communities. As of September 18, the government had disbursed just under 41.6 million pesos (US$770,000) worth of humanitarian assistance to affected citizens.

In the coming months, reconstruction and rehabilitation costs will likely jump into the tens of millions of dollars as authorities come to terms with the full extent of the typhoon’s devastation. Many areas remain inaccessible to officials due to damaged infrastructure including bridges.

The damage to the country’s agriculture sector has been exceptionally heavy, with a total of 1.22 million hectares of rice and corn crops adversely affected, according to the Department of Agriculture. The International Red Cross said in a press release that more than 110,000 people who rely on fishing were also affected.

The NDRRMC estimates the cost of lost rice crops at 8.96 billion pesos (US$165 million), corn at 4.49 billion pesos (US$83 million), high value commercial crops at 788 million pesos (US$14.6 million), livestock and poultry at 5.5 million pesos (US$101,707) and agriculture infrastructure at 82 million pesos (US$1.5 million).

An aerial photo shows devastated rice and corn fields inundated by floods from a swollen river after heavy rains during Super Typhoon Mangkhut in Alcala, Cagayan province, September 16, 2018. Photo: AFP/Ted Aljibe

In the CAR region alone, as many as 171,932 farmers were adversely affected and in need of government assistance. Authorities are still estimating the number of affected farmers in other regions. The heavily affected provinces in Cagayan Valley and Ilocos are among the country’s main crop-producing areas.

Overall damage to the agriculture sector was estimated at 14.3 billion pesos (US$264.5 million) as of September 18, according to NDRRMC. The figure is almost twice the “worst-case scenario” losses of 7.9 billion pesos (US$146 million) projected earlier by Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol.

The Philippines is already suffering from fast-rising inflation due to heavy shortages of rice and basic necessities that have incurred huge import bills that have put pressure on the currency. Ompong will thus exacerbate inflation and worsen economic conditions broadly in the months ahead, economists say.

Under heavy criticism for his absence during last month’s Yagi typhoon, known locally as Karding, that hit Metro Manila, President Rodrigo Duterte has been notably more visible and hands-on in Ompong’s aftermath. He has chaired key meetings to coordinate disaster response and relief operations across the country.

He also personally visited bereaved families of the victims of a widely covered landslide in La Trinidad in Benguet province before heading to another briefing on response and rehabilitation operations in the affected areas of CAR.

The president personally handed out financial assistance and relief goods to the families of the victims, according to his Special Assistant Bong Go.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte (2nd L) arriving at the airport in Tuguegarao, Cagayan province on September 16, 2018 for talks with local officials on the aftermath of Typhoon Mangkhut. Photo: AFP/Ted Aljibe 

Baguio City Mayor Mauricio Domogan personally thanked the president for taking the time to visit those affected in the areas. “This is the first time that a president went down to earth to us,” the mayor said during a situation briefing.

Though quipping about the political ambitions of his deputies in the upcoming 2019 elections, Duterte also urged officials not to engage in politicking in the typhoon’s aftermath.

“Not this one because it involves lives…it’s unsettling to one’s spirit, to one’s soul,” the president said before adjourning a situation briefing before the public.

His administration is also taking a tough stance against negligent officials. The Department of the Interior and Local Government said on September 18 that more than ten mayors from Cagayan Valley region and CAR could face administrative charges due to their alleged negligence and absence during the super storm’s onslaught.

Sacks containing relief food packs to be distributed to typhoon-affected residents at the city of Tuguegarao, Cagayan province, north of Manila, September 14, 2018. Photo: AFP/Ted Aljibe

International assistance, meanwhile, is beginning to pour in. Australia announced that it will give 31 million pesos (US$573,000) in humanitarian aid for victims of the storm, while Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, in a letter of condolence, assured “maximum possible assistance including provision of emergency relief goods to the Philippines.”

The European Commission said it will send an emergency aid package worth 125.06 million (US$2.3 million) to “help provide crucial support to those most in need and help them face the challenges during this time of need.”

The United Nations World Food Program said it would transport 20,000 bags of rice as food rations for victims.
Both the United States and China also expressed their condolences and willingness to help the Philippines.

But just days after the typhoon made its deadly landfall, the nation is just starting to come to terms with the loss of life and livelihoods.