Mayors in Philippines plead for aid death toll from typhoon

Mayors in Philippines plead for aid as death toll from typhoon climbs to 146. The governor of an island province in the central Philippines said Sunday at least 72 people died in the devastation wrought by Typhoon Rai in more than half of the towns that managed to contact him, bringing the death toll in the strongest typhoon to batter the country this year to at least 146.

Gov. Arthur Yap of Bohol province said 10 others were missing and 13 injured, and suggested the fatalities may still considerably increase with only 33 out of 48 mayors able to report back to him due to downed communications. Officials were trying to confirm a number of deaths caused by landslides and extensive flooding elsewhere.

In statements posted on Facebook, Yap ordered mayors in his province of more than 1.2 million people to invoke their emergency powers to secure food packs for large numbers of people along with drinking water. Both have been urgently sought in several hard-hit towns.

After joining a military aerial survey of typhoon-ravaged towns, Yap said, “It is very clear that the damage sustained by Bohol is great and all-encompassing.”

He said the initial inspection did not cover four towns, where the typhoon blew in as it rampaged through central island provinces on Thursday and Friday. The government said about 780,000 people were affected, including more than 300,000 residents who had to evacuate their homes.

At least 64 other typhoon deaths were reported by the disaster-response agency, the national police and local officials. Officials on Dinagat Islands, one of the southeastern provinces first pounded by the typhoon, separately reported 10 deaths just from a few towns, bringing the overall fatalities so far to 146.

President Rodrigo Duterte flew to the region Saturday and promised $40 million in aid. He met officials in Maasin City in Southern Leyte province where he was born. Duterte’s family later relocated to the southern city of Davao, where he served as a longtime mayor before rising to the presidency.

“The moment I was born into this world, I told my mother, `’Let’s not stay here because this place is really prone to typhoons,’” Duterte told officials.

At its strongest, the typhoon packed sustained winds of 121 miles per hour and gusts of up to 168 mph, making it one of the most powerful in recent years to hit the archipelago.

Floodwaters rose rapidly in Bohol’s riverside town of Loboc, where residents were trapped on their roofs and in trees. They were rescued by the coast guard the following day. On Dinagat Islands, an official said the roofs of nearly all the houses, including emergency shelters, were either damaged or blown away entirely.

At least 227 cities and towns lost electricity, which has since been restored in only 21 areas, officials said, adding that three regional airports were damaged, including two that remain closed.

The deaths and widespread damage left by the typhoon ahead of Christmas in the largely Roman Catholic nation brought back memories of the catastrophe inflicted eight years ago by another typhoon, Haiyan, one of the most powerful on record. It hit many of the central provinces that were pummeled last week, leaving more than 6,300 people dead in November 2013.

At the Vatican, Pope Francis expressed his closeness Sunday to the people of the Philippines, referencing the typhoon “that destroyed many homes.”

Thirty years ago this month, the Soviet Union collapsed, and Ukraine broke away from Moscow’s control.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has never gotten over it.

That, more than anything, underlies the current crisis in which Putin has moved nearly 100,000 troops to Ukraine’s frontier, raising fears of an invasion.

“To us, the end of the Soviet Union is a done deal,” but not to Putin, said historian Mary Sarotte. “What he really wants to do is renegotiate the 1990s.”

Last week, Russia sent the United States a list of its demands for defusing the crisis: a binding promise that Ukraine will never become a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, plus the removal of all NATO troops and weapons from 14 Eastern European countries that have joined the alliance since 1997.

It was not an encouraging sign. The demands were so extreme that they appeared intended for rejection — or, worse, as a pretext for invasion.

None of this should come as a surprise.

Putin has raged against NATO’s steady expansion toward Russia’s borders for more than a decade. He appears to have decided that the alliance’s deepening relationship with Ukraine, which is not a NATO member, is the last straw.

He’s not wrong about how the alliance’s growth has affected Russia’s perception of its security. Thirty years ago, Russia had a buffer zone of satellite states to its west. Now it has only the unimpressive presence of Belarus.

Russia’s western border is NATO’s eastern flank. American and British military advisors serve in Ukraine; U.S. missile defense systems sit in Poland and Romania; and NATO troops conduct exercises in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, once part of the Soviet Union.

Western officials, including the leaders of those “new NATO” countries, view all those measures as purely defensive. Putin, they note, is not the kind of leader who makes neighbors comfortable.

“There is no threat to Russia here,” Fiona Hill, who served on the National Security Council staff under President Trump, told me.

“We are not a threat. Ukraine is most definitely not a threat. … But Putin considers the regathering of Russian lands” — including, in his view, Ukraine — “to be part of his legacy.”

There’s no obvious way to reconcile those opposing viewpoints. This is a problem that can’t be solved — only managed.

President Biden, thrown into the role of crisis manager, is trying a two-track approach: threats of “devastating” sanctions if Russia invades plus an offer to talk about Putin’s overall security concerns.

His position is weakened by the fact that neither the United States nor any of its allies are willing to go to war with Russia over Ukraine.

But it has been strengthened by a remarkable show of allied unity in support of future sanctions, including willingness from Germany to block completion of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which is being built to sell more Russian natural gas to Europe.

One of the ironies of Putin’s belligerent approach is that far from weakening NATO, it has driven the 30 countries in the alliance closer together.

The U.S. position contains an irony too: NATO doesn’t really want Ukraine as a member, but it doesn’t want to give Putin veto power over who gets to apply. Allowing Russia to dictate limits to NATO defenses in member countries is even less palatable.

Still, not all of Russia’s arguments are unreasonable.

“There are some concerns on the Russian side that are legitimate,” Steven Pifer, a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, told me.

“Putin has complained about American offensive missiles on his border that could reach Moscow in five minutes. There are no such missiles there now, but we could certainly have a conversation about missiles.”

“We could talk about conventional forces too,” Pifer added. “But the conversation would have to cover both sides. It’s not clear that the Russians would get what they want.”

The COVID-19 Omicron variant is “just raging around the world,” the White House’s top medical advisor said Sunday, and President Biden is planning to give “a stark warning of what the winter will look like” for unvaccinated Americans.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the county’s leading infectious disease expert, told NBC’s “Meet the Press” that “the real problem” for the U.S. hospital system is that “we have so many people in this country who are eligible to be vaccinated who have not yet been vaccinated.”

The prospect of a winter chilled by a new wave of coronavirus infections is a severe reversal from the optimism projected by Biden some 10 months ago, when he suggested at a CNN town hall that the country would essentially be back to normal by this Christmas. Biden has been careful not to overpromise, yet confidence in the country has been battered by an unrelenting wave of COVID-19 mutations and variations that have left many Americans emotionally exhausted, dispirited and worried about infections.

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