More help for Philippine flood victims

2011-12-23 15:56

Cagayan de Oro - Philippines authorities on Friday doubled the number of dead and missing in deadly floods to more than 2 000, as relief groups rushed in aid for desperate survivors.

Water, toilets, and other facilities are all urgently needed to head off potential epidemics, said Angela Travis, a local spokesperson for the UN Children's Fund.

"The water situation is still difficult and we are worried about what this means for their health," Travis told AFP, adding damaged tap water systems meant fire trucks had to deliver to the camps.

Nearly half a million people require immediate assistance, United Nations agencies estimate, including nearly 50 000 at evacuation centres and those reduced to living with relatives and on the streets.

Unhygienic practices

Snejal Soneji, country director for the non-government aid organisation Oxfam, said it would put up latrines on top of about 200 portable toilets that Unicef is scheduled to deliver on Sunday.

"They're resorting to unhygienic practices like not washing hands, which could lead to outbreaks of diseases," Soneji told AFP.

The United Nations, which launched a $28.6m aid appeal on Thursday, likened the force of the disaster to that of a tsunami.

A UN High Commissioner for Refugees chartered plane is to fly into Manila on Friday to deliver the first batch of 42 tons of emergency shelters, blankets, and kitchen implements intended for the flood areas.

As weary survivors of a disaster that swept away coastal shantytowns prepared for a bleak Christmas, authorities said there were now 1 079 people missing after the weekend's deluge, up from 51.

Whole families missing

The confirmed death toll meanwhile rose to 1 080 from 1 010.

More than half of those killed were from the major port cities of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan on the large southern island of Mindanao.

The big jump in the missing came as rural families reported large numbers of relatives who had gone to work in the two cities and remained 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 told AFP, adding that often there was no one left to report their disappearance to the authorities.

As well, she said survivors who were recovering from shock or injuries have also only just realised that they have missing family members.

However, civil defence chief Benito Ramos told AFP that the list was "just an estimate" and that no one could say for sure how many people had really been lost.

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 slum-dwellers slept.

Field of mud

Among the missing is rickshaw driver Gilbert Olano, whose grainy photographs were being posted across Cagayan de Oro by his wife Arlene Olano, 41, after floodwaters devastated their neighbourhood.

They bore details his name, age and a telephone number for people to call with any information on his whereabouts.

"How can we celebrate Christmas without my husband?" the mother-of-three told AFP two days before the mainly Roman Catholic nation's most festive holiday.

The family, among the many poor migrants who have colonised low-lying areas over the past decade, saw their house in the Tibasak shanty-town swallowed up and taken away by the rising river before dawn on Saturday.

When their two teenage daughters returned 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 being left with nothing but the clothes they were wearing.

"Sometimes it takes an hour. Sometimes we run out of food because the men folk jump the queue. What can I do? I am just a woman."

Dangerous areas

National police chief Nicanor Bartolome said armed officers were guarding the slums-turned-ghost towns as the government builds replacement shelters on higher ground.

"We really need to prevent people going back because these areas are too dangerous for them," Bartolome told reporters.

However, Ramos said this would be for the longer term as no relocation sites were ready as yet.