As waters in areas reached two stories high, some stranded people, desperate for help, flooded social media with their locations and pleas for assistance.
The pandemic has further complicated the situation, with thousands of displaced people crowding evacuation centers, and travel restrictions — which were not eased until Sunday — potentially hampering aid and media access.
Vamco followed on the heels of Typhoon Goni, which hit in early November and clocked in as the world’s strongest typhoon so far this year. Goni narrowly missed the Manila region, home to 12 million people.
The waves of successive storms walloping the Philippines this year have cost an estimated $207 million in agricultural damages.
Aerial footage from Cagayan Valley — a sprawling farmland region located a 10-hour drive from Manila — looked to be a muddy sea on Saturday after a dam’s floodgates were opened to release rainwater following the typhoon. Thousands of the area’s 1.2 million residents scrambled for higher ground, with many camping out on their rooftops.
Local broadcaster ABS-CBN reported that in Tuguegarao City, the region’s most populous area, floodwater remained 12 meters (39 feet) high by Saturday evening. At least 40 neighborhoods and more than 20 towns across Cagayan province were still submerged days after the typhoon hit.
Authorities declared a state of calamity and said at least nine people in Cagayan Valley had died — some by drowning, landslides and electrocution.
It is unclear whether these nine casualties were included in the government’s official count as the death toll has confusingly varied from agency to agency. The military told local media it had recovered 39 bodies as of Friday morning, while the official disaster management council provided a more conservative count the next day. Either way, the number is expected to rise as floodwaters subside.
Rescue missions continued throughout the weekend, with Philippines’ Red Cross teams deployed across the area. Local volunteers raced to provide hot meals and assistance to the newly displaced.
President Rodrigo Duterte on Saturday announced the creation of a task force to streamline disaster responses. Authorities were “working round-the-clock, nonstop,” he said. “Help is on the way.”
Duterte’s critics denounced the new task force as another layer of red tape on top of already slow operations. Philippine Vice President Leni Robredo — who leads the opposition — has been posting rescue updates on Twitter, revealing the lack of equipment like motorized boats to travel through the current.
Mahar Lagmay, executive director of the University of the Philippines’ Resilience Institute, cautioned that as the climate crisis worsens and the scale of flooding increases, the government must act by mapping out and communicating these unprecedented threats to residents.
“We have to prepare [for] hazards that are bigger than what we remember and what we experienced,” he said. “If we do not, when it comes, when they are bigger, people will get surprised.”
Typhoon Vamco is expected to next reach Vietnam, where it is already affecting areas with strong winds and heavy rain.
Miriam Berger reported from Washington. Andrew Freedman contributed to this report.