Bleak Christmas after floods
Dead, missing toll soars as deluge hits the Philippines
CAGAYAN DE ORO: The number of people missing after devastating Philippines floods soared to more than 1 000 yesterday, doubling the feared toll from a disaster that swept away coastal shantytowns.
As weary survivors prepared for a bleak Christmas, authorities said there were now 1 079 people missing after the weekend deluge, up from previous figures of only 51.
More than half of those were from the major port cities of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan on the island of Mindanao, where tens of thousands of homeless survivors are living in crowded evacuation centres.
The big jump in the missing came as rural families reported large numbers of relatives going to work in cities were unaccounted for, civil defence official Ana Caneda said.
“There are whole families who have gone missing or who died. No one inquired about them before,” she said. “Victims who could not find their relatives are now inquiring about them.”
Philippines authorities have warned that many of the dead may never be found after being swept into the sea as tropical storm Washi brought heavy rains, flash floods and overflowing rivers – striking as slumdwellers slept.
Among the missing is rickshaw driver Gilbert Olano, whose grainy photographs were being posted across Cagayan de Oro by his wife Arlene Olano, 41.
“How can we celebrate Christmas without my husband?” she said.
The family, among the many poor migrants living in low-lying areas, saw their house in the Tibasak shantytown swallowed up and taken away by the rising Cagayan river before dawn on Saturday.
“My husband made sure we all got out of the house, but in doing so he got left behind,” Olano said.
When their two daughters returned to the place after the waters ebbed, all they saw was a vast field of mud.
“I don’t ever want to go back there. I hope the government will make good on its promise to relocate us,” said Olano, who said the family had to line up for food rations after escaping the deluge with just the clothes they were wearing.
The government’s civil defence agency, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, listed 674 dead and 626 missing in Cagayan de Oro, along with 312 dead and 406 missing in Iligan.
However, civil defence chief Benito Ramos said the list was “just an estimate” and that no one could say for sure how many people had been lost.
Caneda said that some of those listed as missing could be among the unidentified bodies piling up at local mortuaries.
In Iligan on Friday, 64- year- old laundry woman Nerissa Baclan lined up outside a church hoping to get food and money as she searched for her daughter Teresa, who was seven months pregnant at the time of the storm.
“She had been living in her new house for just a few months but it was washed away, nothing is left there,” said the old woman, who has already found the remains of her three other grown children.
“I am sure she is dead. But I still want to see her,” the weeping woman said.
The United Nations, which launched a $28.6 million (R233.9m) aid appeal on Thursday, likened the force of the disaster to that of a tsunami.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees said it would be airlifting 42 tons of emergency shelters, blankets, and kitchen implements yesterday to the flood areas. – SAPA-AFP
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