NEW BATAAN, Philippines (AP) — The death toll from a powerful typhoon in the southern Philippines climbed to more than 270 people Wednesday and officials feared many more bodies could be found as rescuers reach hard-hit areas that had been isolated by landslides, floods and downed communications.
At least 151 people have died in the worst-hit province of Compostela Valley since Typhoon Bopha began lashing the region early Tuesday, including 66 villagers and soldiers who perished in a flash flood that swamped two emergency shelters and a military camp in New Bataan town, provincial spokeswoman Fe Maestre told The Associated Press.
About 80 people survived the deluge in New Bataan with injuries, but an unspecified number of villagers remain missing. On Wednesday, the farming town of 45,000 people was a muddy wasteland of collapsed houses and columns of coconut and banana trees felled by Bopha's ferocious winds.
Outside a town gymnasium, several mud-stained bodies were laid side-by-side, covered by cloth and banana leaves and surrounded by villagers covering their noses to fight the stench. A man sprayed insecticide on the remains to turn away swarms of flies.
"It's hard so say how many more are missing," Maestre said. "We're now searching everywhere."
In nearby Davao Oriental, the coastal province first struck by the typhoon as it blew inland from the Pacific Ocean, at least 115 people perished mostly in three towns that were so battered by the wind wind it was hard to find any building or house with a roof left, provincial officer Freddie Bendulo and other officials said.
"We had a problem where to take the evacuees. All the evacuation centers have lost their roofs," Davao Oriental Gov. Corazon Malanyaon said.
Disaster-response agencies reported 13 other typhoon-related deaths elsewhere.
Unlike the previous day's turbulent weather, the sun was back Wednesday, prompting residents to lay their soiled clothes, books and other belongings out on roadsides to dry and revealing the extent of the damage to farmland. Thousands of banana trees in one Compostela Valley plantation were toppled by the wind, the young bananas still wrapped in blue plastic covers.
After slamming into Davao Oriental and Compostela Valley, Bopha roared fast across southern Mindanao and central regions, knocking out power in two entire provinces, triggering landslides and leaving houses and coconut and banana plantations disheveled. More than 170,000 fled from homes to evacuation centers.
The typhoon, one of the strongest to hit the country this year, had blown past southwestern Palawan province into the South China Sea by mid-Wednesday.
The deaths came despite efforts by President Benigno Aquino III's government to force residents out of high-risk communities prone to landslides, flash floods and storm surges as the typhoon approached. Some 20 typhoons and storms lash the northern and central Philippines each year, but they rarely hit the vast southern Mindanao region.
A rare storm in the south last December killed more than 1,200 people and left many more homeless and traumatized, including in Cagayan de Oro city, where church bells rang relentlessly on Tuesday to warn residents to scramble to safety as a major river started to rise.
Associated Press writers Jim Gomez, Teresa Cerojano and Oliver Teves in Manila contributed to this report.