loom for Typhoon ‘Sendong’ victims; 150 bodies retrieved from sea; Death toll now over 1,200
CAGAYAN DE ORO, Philippines (AFP) — Tens of thousands of flash flood survivors in Northern Mindanao face life in tent cities for months while safe areas to resettle them are sought, a top relief official said yesterday.
More than 60,000 people displaced by Tropical Storm “Sendong” (international name: Washi) are sheltering in government buildings in Cagayan de Oro and Iligan cities, most of them in schools that reopen after the holidays, Office of Civil Defense chief Benito Ramos said.
“We can’t construct permanent shelters for them immediately. It will take some time. They have to move into tents when schools reopen on January 3,” Ramos told AFP.
Floods unleashed by the storm obliterated entire riverside communities on the north coast of Mindanao before dawn on December 17, many of them populated by poor migrants living in shacks built on sandbars.
The government does not normally build houses for those left homeless by natural disasters, but President Aquino has banned the victims from returning to flood-prone areas, stationing armed police to enforce the measure.
Cagayan de Oro, which accounted for half the 1,236 officially confirmed deaths, plans to move its evacuees to a government lot on its outskirts while building homes on the rest of the six-hectare (15-acre) property, Ramos said.
Meanwhile evacuees in nearby Iligan would be moved to the city bus terminal while local authorities try to find a permanent resettlement site for them.
“It won’t be easy. That (Iligan) is mainly mountainous,” he said, adding the national government had no definite timetable for building permanent shelters although he expects them to be ready in six months.
“We have adequate stocks to feed them. The response from the international community has been tremendous,” Ramos added.
Local officials have reported more than 1,000 people missing, a figure that Ramos, who also supervises the corpse retrieval operation by military units, considers possibly overstated.
Many of the dead remain unidentified and unclaimed at overflowing local mortuaries.
The focus of the search has shifted to the sea, where bloated bodies lie scattered in debris-strewn Iligan Bay as well as Macajalar Bay near Cagayan de Oro.
“The search is tapering off. The problem is there could still be bodies buried under the uncollected debris in the cities,” Ramos said, adding the public works department was repairing shattered roads and bridges while military reservists had been called up to help clear away mud and other debris.
“There’s no Christmas here. It’s a sad spectacle,” he said.
MORE BODIES WASH UP ASHORE
MANILA, Philippines (AP) – Fishermen joined navy sailors, police and firefighters in an ever wider search for bodies from one of the country’s worst flash floods that swept away entire villages. More bodies washed up ashore, pushing the death toll to more than 1,200, Ramos said.
While more than 60,000 homeless from hundreds of flood-ravaged villages spent a miserable Christmas in jam-packed schools and gymnasiums, search teams retrieved an additional 150 bodies from the sea as far as 100 kilometers from worst-hit Cagayan de Oro and Iligan cities, said Ramos.
He said it would take three to six months to restore some normalcy and construct temporary housing to free up schools that are now serving as refugee camps.
The death toll as of Monday stood at 1,236, with about two-thirds of the bodies unidentified. With more bodies found floating farther away, Ramos said authorities sought the help of fishermen to scour the sea.
“We’ve stopped counting the missing. There are no accurate figures,” Ramos said. “Those recovered, we don’t know who they are. We have a system in place so that families can claim them later, based on fingerprints and dental records.”
The United Nations last week launched an urgent appeal for $28 million to help an estimated 600,000 affected people, more than half the population of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan.
Despite warnings from forecasters, most were asleep Dec. 16 when Sendong made a landfall in a region rarely visited by typhoons. It unleashed more than a month’s worth of rainfall in 12 hours, sending walls of water gushing into homes.
Many of the dead were women and children who drowned in their beds. Others scrambled to climb roofs to escape the overflowing rivers and muddy waters that carried dangerous debris and logs from nearby mountains. The logs were still floating off the coast. President Aquino, who banned logging in February following previous flooding deaths that experts say were caused partly by deforestation and soil erosion, has ordered an investigation.
Another factor in the staggering death toll was illegal settlements along Cagayan rivers. Thousands of people lived in shanties on the banks and islands directly along the water’s path.
In the evacuation centers, where about a third of the displaced are children, aid workers were providing food, clothes, blankets, bottled water and hygiene kits.
A lack of running water was still a major concern. Many shelters had poor sanitation with open drainage and defecation sites, said Ariel Balofinos, Mindanao manager for Save the Children aid agency.
KOKO WANTS EFFECTIVE DISASTER MEASURES
Senator Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III wants effective disaster preparedness and mitigation measures in the wake of the tragedy caused by Typhoon Sendong on his hometown.
Pimentel’s call came in the wake of the demand by Anakpawis Rep. Rafael Mariano and Kabataan Rep. Raymond Palatino for President Aquino to explain why he vetoed the provision allotting a bigger budget for disaster risk reduction program.
The country should do what it can to prevent these disasters from happening again, Pimentel said.
For Mariano and Palatino, Aquino’s allotting R14.2 billion for the disaster preparedness fund in addition to a P7.5 billion calamity fund in the 2012 General Appropriations Act “comes too little, too late”.
Pimentel said high priority should be given to disaster preparedness systems and added the Department of Natural Resources (DENR), the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB), the Department of Interior and Local Governments (DILG) and PAGASA should immediately develop geohazard maps.
“This should be done for all areas, and not just those traditionally prone to flooding,” the Mindanao senator said. “This would increase the awareness and readiness of local governments for potential disasters.” (Marvyn Benaning)
Incoming search terms:
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