The death toll from flash floods that swept away entire villages in the southern Philippines climbed to nearly 1,500 yesterday, as authorities widened their search for bodies.
The Philippine Office of Civil Defense’s latest tally listed 891 dead in Cagayan de Oro and an additional 451 in nearby Iligan city. The rest came from several other provinces. Most of the dead are unidentified.
“The search will continue as long as we are recovering bodies,” Office of Civil Defense Administrator Benito Ramos said.
He said that decomposing remains were retrieved floating in the sea as far as 100km from the two cities where a tropical storm on Dec. 16 unleashed more than a month’s worth of rainfall in 12 hours, sending walls of water gushing into homes.
One of the dead was a headless girl who appeared to have been hit by logs that were carried by flash floods, Ramos said. She was among 13 bodies retrieved by a team of navy sailors.
Navy and coast guard divers were initially sent to find more bodies believed to be pinned down by logs scattered in the sea and along riverbanks, but Ramos said the operation had to be called off because waters were too murky.
“It’s useless to dive when you can see nothing,” he said.
It was not clear how many more are missing.
More than 60,000 homeless from hundreds of flood-ravaged villages spent a miserable Christmas in jam-packed schools and gymnasiums, while the UN launched an urgent appeal for US$28 million to help the displaced — more than half the population of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan, which are in the southern Philippines’ Mindanao region.
Rains yesterday prompted evacuations of nearly 2,000 people on the opposite side of the island of Mindanao, where a child was reported missing in floods in the city of Surigao, the civil defense reported.
Philippine President Benigno Aquino III, who banned logging in February following previous flooding deaths that experts say were caused partly by deforestation and soil erosion, has ordered an investigation.
Meanwhile, communist guerrillas threatened to punish multinational companies they blame for environmental destruction.
Rebel spokesperson Jorge Madlos said by telephone that they sought funds for victims from huge pineapple and banana plantations and other companies.
“Some were lukewarm to our call,” Madlos said. “That’ll be a factor when we decide which ones to punish first for this destruction.”