Residents of two southern Philippines’ cities battered by a storm that left nearly 1 000 people dead and displaced hundreds of thousands have begun the hard work of reclaiming their lives as authorities buried dozens of bodies in concrete vaults on Wednesday.
The national disaster agency said 976 people were killed and 46 remained unaccounted for on Mindanao island after typhoon Washi triggered landslides and flash floods that swept aside homes and roads as people slept in the early hours of Saturday.
Most of the casualties were in the cities of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan and more than 275 000 people remain 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 shovelling mud, washing furniture and hanging clothes to dry under the sun.
“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 centres 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 kind-hearted to give us lumber and galvanised iron so we can build a new home.”
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% 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.
“Core shelters may take time to build because of the requirements involved,” Ramos told a radio interview. “There are environmental clearances to secure and you have to show the locations are not prone to floods or landslides.”
Interior secretary Jesse Robredo said the president gave local officials at least $1.14-million to begin building new houses in the two cities.
City officials in Iligan continued to bury drowning victims, many of them in a decomposing state, in newly-built concrete crypts at a public cemetery.
A Reuters photographer saw bodies of one family lying in coffins built from logs that destroyed homes during the flood being pushed inside one crypt. About 50 bodies were buried late on Tuesday and dozens more were buried on Wednesday.
Family members or residents of the same villages were entombed in a single sepulchre in Iligan City but officials in nearby Cagayan de Oro delayed mass burial to allow police to tag for identification more than 600 bodies recovered.
On Tuesday, President Benigno Aquino declared a state of national calamity and ordered an investigation into the disaster.
He said the government has more than $22.79-million in calamity funds and could access soft loans from the Asian Development Bank and World Bank for long-term rehabilitation work.
The disaster agency said nearly 1-billion pesos worth of infrastructure, schools and hospitals were destroyed in floods. The agriculture department said more than 15-million pesos worth of crops, mostly rice and corn, were damaged. — Reuters