Storm-struck Philippines runs out of rescue funds

Stunned residents picked their way through a wasteland of mud and rubble to leave storm-ravaged areas of the Philippines on Tuesday as the government said it has run out of money to pay for relief services.

Rescuers continued battling wind and rain to deliver food and medical supplies to the three north-eastern coastal towns of Real, Infanta and General Nakar, which bore the brunt of savage storms that tore across the country last week, leaving more than 1 400 people dead or missing.

The damage bill is expected to run into billions of pesos in a country already strapped for cash.

Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman told a Senate hearing in Manila that her department has already spent the entire 87-million pesos ($1,55-million) allocated for relief operations this year.

The department is the main provider of aid to those displaced by last week’s storm and typhoon. Other government departments involved in the relief effort are not affected by the cash shortage.

Soliman said that to continue services to the tens of thousands still homeless or displaced, her department needs “between 50- and 70-million pesos for relief operations”.

However, Senate finance committee chief Mauel Villar said it is helpless to allocate additional money at this time and recommended Soliman get money from a special presidential discretionary fund.

In the three worst affected areas of Real, Infanta and General Nakar, the scene was one of total devastation.

Mud-splattered residents of General Nakar, some carrying their few belongings and young children, hiked to Real and Infanta to board boats to take them away from the ravaged area.

Severina Espedero, who fled General Nakar for Infanta, said she has nothing but the clothes she was wearing.

Her home and everything she owned is now buried under a sea of mud in General Nakar. She was attending a wake in the home of a relative on November 29 when floodwaters suddenly inundated the area.

“Floodwaters started to flow through the house so I decided to leave. The water rose very quickly and the house I was in was carried away with everyone still inside.

“That is the last I ever saw of my eight relatives. They found the coffin and the body of my relative still intact but the other relatives have not been found.”

Would she go back?

“No, I never want to see that place again,” she said.

While signs of normalisation could be seen in Real and Infanta, parts of General Nakar were like a ghost town with many people having to trek all the way to the other towns to pick up relief goods.

With no functioning port and still cut off by road, General Nakar was largely dependent on helicopters to bring in supplies.

Air-force helicopters braved low clouds to deliver relief supplies in the town while two United States navy Blackhawk helicopters took off from a base in Manila to deliver supplies and pick up the injured in General Nakar.

Bad weather had earlier hampered efforts to send helicopters and boats with relief goods and rescuers to the disaster site while landslides and fallen bridges have blocked travel by road.

Frenchman Jean Francois Cazenave, a member of the NGO Telecoms sans Frontières, said it has set up satellite communications facilities in Real, General Nakar and Infanta.

“The roads are cut and the place is isolated so people can’t communicate. We give them not only communication services but also psychological assistance. People can call [relatives] to say they have survived, they are alive and their house is broken.”

Foreign aid continued to pour in.

Japan, the US, France, Australia, Spain, the European Commission, the International Red Cross, the Spanish Red Cross and the Malaysian Red Crescent have announced they are providing $26,14-million in funds or equipment.

The Singapore government launched a fund-raising drive, contributing an initial $50 000 before a scheduled visit by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to Manila.

The tropical storm that hit the country on November 29 — locally named Winnie — left a total of 669 dead and 697 missing, most of them from the three north-eastern coastal towns.

Typhoon Nanmadol, which hit last Thursday, caused another 38 deaths and left another 33 people missing. — Sapa-AFP

  • 1 400 dead or missing

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