MANILA (UPDATE) — The deadly typhoon that killed hundreds in the Philippines also damaged dozens of homes and government infrastructure on the country's biggest, strategically most important outpost in the West Philippine Sea, including a newly built coast guard station.
Typhoon Odette (international name: Rai) which left nearly 400 people dead and displaced hundreds of thousands, hit the remote Pagasa island (Thitu Island), one of nine features the Philippines occupies in the Spratly archipelago, just as it has been undergoing an upgrade to facilities including the repair of a runway.
Pagasa Island, which is part of the Kalayaan Island Group (KIG), is located more than 300 miles (483 kilometers) from the Philippines, and is considered part of Palawan province.
Manila calls the maritime areas on the western side of the Philippine archipelago as the West Philippine Sea. These include the Luzon Sea as well as the waters around, within and adjacent to the KIG and Bajo De Masinloc, also known as Scarborough Shoal.
The West Philippine Sea is part of the South China Sea, which Beijing claims in its near entirety.
"As soon as possible, we will rebuild the coast guard station," Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) spokesperson Armando Balilo told Reuters. "We need Pagasa island, it is critical to our country," he said.
The island's population of just 194 as of July has a strategic purpose for Manila - preserving a Philippine claim of sovereignty in the face of a resurgent China.
China claims sovereignty over the Spratlys, but Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam all have competing claims for some or all of the islands.
Chinese President Xi Jinping has expressed his condolences to the Philippines and his country's readiness to extend help, according to Beijing's ambassador to Manila.
Balilo said the island's residents were safe, and the coast guard's priority was to send relief supplies.
Images shared by the coast guard showed the trail of damage left behind by Odette on Pagasa, from uprooted trees to the roofs and walls of homes being torn off.
"Only the evacuation center was left standing, but the windows were also busted," Balilo said.
Odette, which struck the Philippines last Thursday, was the strongest typhoon to hit the archipelago this year. It has affected 1.8 million and displaced 630,000 residents, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said.
It revived memories in the Philippines of the devastation brought in 2013 by Typhoon Yolanda (International name: Haiyan), one of the most powerful tropical cyclones ever recorded, which killed 6,300.
Balilo said the coast guard managed to reach Dinagat Islands, one of the southeastern provinces first pounded by the typhoon, on Tuesday, to deliver desperately needed relief supplies after residents had been pleading for food, water and shelter.
- with ABS-CBN News