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Death toll in floods in Philippines surpasses 950


This news story was published on December 20, 2011.
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MANILA, Philippines — The death toll from devastating floods in the Philippines reached 957 after bodies swept to sea were retrieved, the Office of Civil Defense said Tuesday.

The southern city of Cagayan de Oro suffered the highest death toll at 579, while 279 were killed in the nearby city of Iligan, OCD administrator Benito Ramos said.

Tropical storm Washi also caused floods and landslides in nearby southern and central provinces, killing at least 99 people, the OCD said.

“The death toll will possibly be more than 1,000 because many are still missing,” Ramos said. “We don’t have an accurate tally of the missing because we’ve lost count with the rising numbers.”

In a visit to Cagayan de Oro and Iligan, President Benigno Aquino III assured flood victims that the government would pour all its calamity resources into helping them recover.

“You can count on the government to help you rebuild your homes, but we will not allow you to return to areas where you are under threat,” he said. “We will not let you put your lives in danger again.”

Aquino announced an aid package of about $8.6 million for the relocation of victims who lost their houses in the floods, the repair of damaged facilities, especially water plants, medicines and the establishment of a river warning system.

Aquino also directed civil defense and local officials to account for all missing persons.

“Let us exhaust all means to find these missing individuals,” he said.

Authorities again held mass burials for the dead Tuesday in Iligan and Cagayan de Oro, where coffins had run out and funeral parlors were overwhelmed with the mounting death toll. The stench of decay also began to envelop the disaster zones.

The Philippine Navy on Tuesday dispatched a vessel carrying relief goods and 500 coffins donated by officials in the northern province of Pampanga, while the Health Department has dispatched hundreds of body bags.

The government and relief agencies also rushed bottled water, food and medicines to help more than 330,000 displaced by the floods, the OCD said.

Nearly 43,000 of the displaced population are staying in cramped evacuation centers that lack facilities, while some have been forced to beg for food on the streets.

“It’s sad but they will probably have to stay in evacuation centers during Christmas and even New Year,” Ramos said.

Washi slammed into the southern Philippines on Friday, dumping more than one month’s worth of rains in less than 12 hours, which caused rivers to flood. Water from denuded mountains also cascaded down to the cities.

The rampaging floods hit as resident slept, sweeping away houses, vehicles and trees. Entire villages were turned into a wasteland of thick mud, logs, mangled steel and iron sheeting, and other debris.

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