Tens of thousands of Philippine flood survivors lined up for their Christmas meal in packed evacuation centers yesterday, holiday spirits doused by thoughts of more than 2,000 dead or missing kin.
Eight days after devastating flash floods swept to sea entire communities from the southern island of Mindanao, officials said 328,000 people were relying on emergency aid, including more than 69,000 sheltering at evacuation centers.
Village chief Aurelio Magaro joined 422 other survivors from the rural hamlet of Digkilaan lining up for food in the courtyard of a school that was flattened by the overflowing Mandulog River.
“We have a sad Christmas this year, but we remain hopeful that we will recover,” said Magaro, who told reporters he lost 15 relatives to rampaging floodwaters unleashed by tropical storm Washi on Dec. 17.
“How can we celebrate Christmas? We have no money and our houses are gone,” said an elderly woman in the line, who like Magaro is temporarily sleeping at a nearby chapel.
A child sat on the drying mud nearby wearing a red-and-white Santa Claus-style bonnet, the only local reminder of Christmas in this mainly Roman Catholic country.
The official toll stood at 1,183 dead, said Lieutenant-Colonel Leopoldo Galon, a regional military spokesman.
Rescuers say more than 1,000 others were listed as missing by relatives, though officials caution many of them could be among the many unclaimed and badly decomposed cadavers at overflowing local mortuaries.
Iligan health officer Levy Villarin told reporters city facilities, including schools and gymnasiums, were sheltering 57,000 people, including at least 5,000 who had lost their homes and others whose dwellings were choked with mud.
“Some of them do not want to return to their homes because of the traumatic experience that they suffered. They had lost their relatives there,” Villarin said.
He said some have to be relocated within the week before students return from the Christmas holidays. However, he said permanent relocation sites still have to be identified and structures built.
He said the city had buried just a fourth of its 464 dead, a process slowed by the delay in forensic work where DNA, fingerprint and dental imprints have to be taken before burial.
Iligan and nearby Cagayan de Oro were the worst-hit areas.
The small forensic team went home to Manila to spend Christmas with their families and will resume work today, even as newly recovered corpses continue to arrive, he said.
Seventeen cadavers were washed ashore on Saturday in the port city of Oroquieta, 65km away, while three others were dug out of the mud in Iligan, he said.