Typhoon Rai, the strongest typhoon to hit the Philippines and Vietnam this year, caused severe damage to some of their major outposts in the South China Sea, according to the Philippine Coast Guard and Vietnamese media.
The hardest hit are Pag-asa Island under the Philippines control, and Southwest Cay, held by Vietnam.
Satellite images taken before and after the category-5 super typhoon struck show the islands changed color from green to brown, as winds and rains knocked out trees and destroyed plants.
The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) posted on social media several photos of the Pag-asa after the typhoon, known as Odette in the Philippines, slammed the island last week.
Pag-asa, or Thitu Island, is the only Philippine-controlled outpost in the South China Sea with a civilian population of around 200. It’s also the largest and most important feature in the Kalayaan Island Group, hosting a naval port and an air strip.
The island is also claimed by China, Taiwan and Vietnam.
Aerial photos show “almost all the buildings and structures on the island were destroyed by the typhoon,” said the PCG, adding that “no fishing boats were found to have survived” either.
A PCG spokesman, Commodore Armand Balilo, was quoted by the ABS-CBN News Channel as saying that the newly-built coast guard station on Pag-asa was “totally washed out”.
Residents on Pag-asa were evacuated before the typhoon and there’s no report of fatalities but the coast guard is calling for relief supplies and reconstruction of damaged structures.
Typhoon Ray hit the Philippines last Thursday. At least 375 people were killed and 56 are still missing. Officials are still assessing the scale of the economic impact.
Vietnamese outposts affected
Meanwhile Vietnam, while being spared the worst as the typhoon didn’t directly strike the mainland, had to evacuate thousands of people from the central coastal areas.
Local media said some of the outposts in the Spratlys islands including Southwest Cay and Sin Cowe Island were badly affected.
On Southwest Cay, the typhoon known in Vietnam as Typhoon Number 9 destroyed 90% of the trees and many houses as well as solar panels. The cay and Sin Cowe Island had sheltered hundreds of Vietnamese fishing boats operating nearby, the Voice of Vietnam said.
Southwest Cay is the second largest of the Vietnamese-occupied features after Spratly Island. It’s also claimed by China, the Philippines and Taiwan.
North Vietnamese forces took the island from the Saigon regime’s troops in 1975.