MANILA -- The death toll from the typhoon that tore through the southern Philippines this week rose past 450 on Friday with over 500 still missing, and there were assertions that climate change, deforestation, poor planning and other factors had worsened the catastrophe.
The government's main disaster agency said Friday afternoon that 456 people were known to have been killed by Typhoon Bopha, with 533 people missing and 445 injured. Local officials estimated that the final death toll would exceeded 500. About 393,000 people were said to be living temporarily in evacuation centers or receiving some other form of government assistance.
Government officials said this week that storm patterns related to climate change had put communities unaccustomed to strong typhoons in Bopha's path. But they also said the destruction had been exacerbated by deforestation from illegal logging and small-scale mining, as well as poor planning and confusion created by maps supposed of vulnerable areas.
"I requested samples of the geohazard maps and even I couldn't read them," Senator Loren Legarda, an outspoken proponent of disaster preparedness programs, said Friday in an interview. "The maps need to be updated and clear, but they are difficult to understand."
Last December, more than 1,200 people in the Philippines were killed by Typhoon Washi, a powerful out-of-season storm that took an unusual southern track and surprised local officials, exposing thousands to flash floods. Government officials at the time vowed to crack down on risk factors -- such as illegal settlements in flood-prone areas -- to avoid a repeat of the disaster.
A year later, Typhoon Bopha took a similar southern track and sent landslides and flash floods barreling through small, vulnerable communities where thousands of people remained at the height of the storm. The government, including President Benigno Aquino III, had issued repeated strong warnings urging residents to prepare, but some apparently had few options.
Officials in the town of New Bataan, in the hardest-hit area, reported that some evacuation centers that were supposed to provide refuge had themselves flooded during the storm.
Environment Secretary Ramon Paje told reporters this week that about 80 percent of the illegal logging "hot spots" in the Philippines are in Compostela Valley, the province that sustained the worst flooding. The denuding of mountains was being seen as a key factor in the landslides and flooding.
"In these illegally logged areas, what do you expect but landslides?" Sen. Legarda said.
Ten of the 11 towns in Compostela Valley are gold mining towns, said Melvin Lamanilao, who heads a program that seeks to bring greater transparency to the mining industry in the province. He estimated that 22,000 individual miners have descended on the province's fragile mountainsides in recent years, digging hundreds of makeshift tunnels, building small gold processing plants and cutting down trees.
"When gold is discovered, these small-scale miners rush into the area," he said. "They just go to the site, explore and dig. They need a lot of timber to stabilize their tunnels. In a gold rush area with no strong government regulation, they can just cut down the trees."
President Aquino has discouraged national government officials from assigning blame for the disaster's death toll, saying the focus at this point should be on rescue efforts and rehabilitating communities. The president on Friday visited several areas that were struck by the typhoon and helped distribute relief goods.world
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.