Philippines buries dead, rebuilds after deadly storm


By Erik de Castro, Reuters

ILIGAN, Philippines — Residents of two southern Philippine cities battered by a storm that left over 1,000 people dead and displaced hundreds of thousands started the hard work of reclaiming their lives as authorities buried dozens of bodies in concrete vaults on Wednesday. The head of the national disaster agency, Benito Ramos, said 1,002 people were killed and dozens more remained unaccounted for on Mindanao island after landslides, flash floods, and falling logs triggered by typhoon Washi swept aside homes and roads as people slept in the early hours of Saturday. “We have no other place to go but to our old homes,” a woman who only gave her name as Marina told local ANC television, saying the evacuation centers were too crowded for her family. “We have to get on with our lives, rebuild our house and forget this tragedy. We appeal to the kindhearted to give us lumber and galvanized iron so we can build a new home.”

Washi was one of the deadliest typhoons to hit the country since 2008 when Fengshen killed 938 in the central Philippines, according to the national disaster agency. The worst typhoon was Thelma which struck Ormoc City on central island of Leyte in 1991, causing flash floods that killed more than 5,000 people. Most of Washi’s casualties were in the cities of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan, with more than 275,000 people homeless, many now sheltering in dozens of evacuation areas. Some of the displaced headed back to their villages to reclaim their lives and rebuild destroyed houses on Wednesday. Television footage showed residents shoveling mud, washing furniture and hanging clothes to dry under the sun. Washi brought more than 180mm (7 inches) of rainfall over a 24-hour period over northern Mindanao, more than the average of 113 mm (4.5 inches) for an entire December month in the area, Rosalina de Guzman of the weather bureau’s climate data office told Reuters. It was the worst typhoon in northern Mindanao in more than 50 years, or since November 1958 when 227 mm (9 inches) of rain fell, de Guzman said.

Some of the displaced spent the night on sidewalks due to overcrowding in schools, churches, gymnasiums and army bases, raising public health concerns due to poor sanitation and lack of potable water.

Nestor dela Cruz, whose two-storey house was swept to the sea, appealed to the government to relocate his family and his neighbours to a safer place. About 70 percent of houses in his village were either destroyed or badly damaged.

“We’re returning to our village, but, we would welcome help from the government if they can give us land and build us new houses.”

Benito Ramos, a retired general and head of the national disaster agency, said it may take time to build new communities for the displaced as they focus on search, relief and recovery operations.

Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo said the president gave officials at least 50 million pesos (US$1.14 million) to begin building new houses in the two cities.