Relief arrives as toll hits 900

DISASTER agencies yesterday delivered body bags, food, water, and medicine to crowded evacuation centres in the southern Philippines as officials ordered the digging of graves to prevent disease after hundreds died in flash floods.

Relief arrives as toll hits 900

The national disaster agency, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, said 927 died after Typhoon Washi slammed ashore in Mindanao island while residents slept at the weekend, sending torrents of water and mud through riverside villages and sweeping houses out to sea.

The head of the national disaster agency, Benito Ramos, said they had lost count of all those still missing. He had earlier suggested digging mass graves to prevent outbreaks of disease, but the two worst hit cities took different approaches.

Officials in Iligan said they would bury about 80 bodies at a public cemetery yesterday — but in individual plots and tombs. Workers were rushing to construct tombs.

“Definitely, we are not burying them in mass graves. That is not allowed anymore,” Levi Villarin, city health officer said.

In Cagayan de Oro, further east along Mindanao’s north coast, officials moved hundreds of unclaimed bodies to a sanitary landfill for a mass burial after residents complained of the stench.

“They (local officials) have to bury these decomposing bodies because they could no longer be recognised and they’re avoiding a potential outbreak of disease,” Ramos said.

Vicente Emano, mayor of Cagayan de Oro, said officials plan to put some bodies into refrigerated trucks until law enforcement agencies identify the dead through fingerprints and DNA tests.

President Benigno Aquino is due to visit the two cities today.

The cities are running out of room at evacuation centres and coffins. The health department was sending 600 body bags and medicines to the affected areas, Social Work Secretary Dinky Soliman said.

The Maoist-led Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) rebels, which have battled government forces for 40 years, said they had declared a six-day unilateral Christmas truce to help those affected by the floods. The government last week announced a 19-day truce.

The government said nearly 143,000 people were affected by the flash floods and landslides, of which 45,000 people were staying in evacuation centres. The rest stayed with relatives.

Save the Children, a London-based NGO, estimated more than half of those affected were children.

Disaster officials said the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs had started a damage and needs assessment survey to help the government and aid agencies respond to the disaster.

The Agriculture department said about 8.1 million pesos (€141,000) in mostly rice and corn crops were lost.

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