The Philippines set up mass burial sites yesterday for decomposing bodies of flood victims after a cyclone disaster left more than 700 people dead on the island of Mindanao.
Officials in the cities of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan, where sleeping families were swept to sea from coastal slums, said unclaimed cadavers piling up in mortuaries were posing health risks and had to be interred.
Burials were expected to take place starting today, local officials said.
The Philippine National Red Cross set the death toll from Saturday’s flash floods spawned by Tropical Storm Washi at 713, while the national disaster council put the figure at 662. Estimates of missing persons varied widely.
Most of the dead were from the two cities, which were built around river systems that overflowed when a month’s worth of rain fell in a 24-hour period.
Teresita Badiang, an engineer at the Iligan mayor’s office, said the city had begun constructing two concrete communal tombs where cadavers would be placed side by side “so that their burial will be dignified.”
Television footage from an Iligan mortuary showed a corridor lined with bodies wrapped in white plastic bags bound with tan-colored packaging tape.
Cagayan de Oro Mayor Vicente Emano said a mass burial would be held in his city within the week, but aides said the exact location had not been finalized.
Jaime Bernadas, the department of health’s director for the region, said cadavers were still being processed prior to “temporary burial” in the city.
Eric Tayag, head of the national epidemiology center in Manila, said the government was taking steps to prevent outbreaks of cholera, dysentery, dengue and respiratory problems, particularly in congested evacuation centers.
“Around 10 days after this flooding there might be an epidemic of water-borne diseases,” Tayag said on television.
Benito Ramos, the government’s disaster agency chief, said most of the victims were “informal settlers” — a term typically used for slum squatters who are often unregistered by authorities.
Meanwhile, Philippine President Benigno Aquino III fought off accusations that he was partying with starlets as the country mourned.
The presidential palace said Aquino briefly stopped by the traditional Christmas party of his elite security group at their compound on Sunday to show gratitude for their services.
“The president stayed for a little over 30 minutes. But he did not go up on stage, he did not sing, he did not dance. There was no partying,” the head of the presidential security group, Colonel Ramon Dizon, said in a statement.
Reports of Aquino’s alleged partying spread after a local TV actress and show host, Valerie Concepcion, said on her Twitter account that she met Aquino at the party, where she performed for the troops and their families.
Concepcion said Aquino laughed at her jokes and enjoyed her performance, triggering a wave of criticism directed at both.