Goni, known locally as Rolly, dodged the Manila region late Sunday but left 125 cities and towns without electricity. About 2 million people were in the path of the storm, which came on the heels of two other typhoons and as the country struggles with one of the region's worst coronavirus outbreaks.
As residents began to clean up, the death toll rose to 20 on Monday. Most deaths were in Albay province, where mud and rocks flowing down from the Mayon Volcano buried San Francisco village, within the town of Guinobatan.
"My family left before the storm," said Hazel Orpiada Panesa, a 19-year-old student from the area who has since hunkered down at a relative's place. "Other people from our neighborhood didn't leave, so some of them are dead, and their bodies are still missing."
Another student from the town, 18-year-old Herbert Oco, said that when he left his home after the storm, he found the local railway blocked and a train buried under mud.
"I saw firsthand the dead that were buried, their arms coming out," he said, adding that he had begun a donation drive on Facebook for a classmate who lost his home and all his belongings.
As of Monday, many of the estimated 389,000 evacuees nationwide were holed up in evacuation centers in churches, courts and schools — a regular protocol that now comes with another layer of fear because of the coronavirus pandemic. Health officials reminded the public to follow social distancing and sanitation guidelines, which can prove difficult in these typically overcrowded arrangements.
President Rodrigo Duterte arrived in Albay province Monday, having faced criticism for his absence from public view when the storm hit over the weekend. Local reports quoted Bong Go, a presidential aide turned senator, as saying Duterte would order an investigation into apparent quarrying around the volcano, which some locals feared had worsened flooding.
Duterte also lashed out at critics who wondered where he was. He said he had gone home to Davao City to pay respect to the dead for All Souls' Day. "I was waiting for the typhoon to pass, then I flew out [of Davao]," he said. "To those who say that I'm not here, what's the problem?"
Officials were also concerned about the hard-hit island province of Catanduanes, which became unreachable with phone lines down and its airport tower unresponsive. Photos that emerged of the damage showed collapsed poles, felled trees and destroyed homes. A team from the national government has been dispatched to the area.
About 700 vehicles and heavy equipment, as well as 4,000 personnel, were deployed to clear roads. Several bridges were destroyed, including one that split in half after a river swelled, according to local reports. Other routes were impassable because of debris, floods and landslides.
Initial agricultural damage was estimated at $22 million, but the Agriculture Department said about 600,000 acres of rice had been saved.
With many affected communities still out of reach, damage could take days to assess. But a relatively low initial death toll compared with some previous storms could point to improvement in the Philippines’ disaster response.
John Leo Algo, of the climate change lobby network Action Climate Philippines, noted a heightened sense of awareness among Filipinos after Haiyan hit seven years ago.
Weather- and climate-monitoring systems have improved, as has the communication of warnings, he said. In 2013, many locals did not understand warnings of a “storm surge” — and later likened the effects of Haiyan to a tsunami.
“There are improvements when it comes to localizing these terms,” Algo said.
The Philippines is no stranger to disasters, including tropical cyclones, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, and is considered highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change.
Still, there were blind spots in disseminating emergency information to people in Goni’s path — notably the absence of broadcaster ABS-CBN, which the government ordered closed this year in what critics saw as a politically motivated attack on press freedom. The media giant, which aired on free television and radio, reached millions and reported in regional languages, which had made it a mainstay source for far-flung rural communities.
Danilo Arao, an associate professor of journalism at the University of the Philippines Diliman, said the broadcaster’s presence was sorely missed. “ABS-CBN used to be the only TV station that reached certain areas of the country,” he said on Twitter.
Oco, the student who is raising funds in Albay, said that his family previously relied on ABS-CBN for blow-by-blow updates of typhoons. Now, he and others in his town must turn to social media — which can be unreliable when communication lines are down.
“Now, you’ll just find those who need help on Facebook,” he said.