Bleak Christ­mas af­ter floods

Dead, miss­ing toll soars as del­uge hits the Philip­pines

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - WORLD -

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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MAK­ING DO: A res­i­dent who fled dev­as­tat­ing flash floods, dries his clothes on top­pled trees along a river bank.

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