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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Mass burials prepared in Iligan and Cagayon de Oro

Filipinos sit beside a coffin during a mass burial near a landfill in the village of Zayas in Cagayan de Oro
City, southern Mindanao, Philippines, 19th December 2011. More than 60 bodies were buried in mass
graves in two flood-ravaged southern Philippine cities. Authorities rushed drinking water and body bags
to two southern Philippine cities devastated by floods caused by a tropical storm that killed more than
650 people. Coffins were in short supply and funeral parlors are unable to keep up with the mounting
death toll in the cities of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan, where 552 people died.
The government prepared for mass burials of flash-flood victims on Monday to minimize the health risk from rotting cadavers after a disaster that has left many hundreds dead or missing, even as 500 caskets were set to be flown in from Pampanga.

According to an ABS-CBN media crew, bad stench befouls the air in these two cities. They said that the foul air could be coming from possible rotting carcasses of animals, and even humans who were alleged missing.

The death toll still continues to rise and had already reach 957 and is still expected to rise as there are still more missing people to find, and some of them may have already been dead.

Filipinos view bodies of flood victims in a
village that was devastated by rampaging
flood waters, in the town of Jassaan, Misamis
Oriental province, southern Mindanao,
Philippines, 19th December 2011.
Hard-pressed authorities in the port cities of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan, on the desperately poor and conflict-torn southern island of Mindanao, are struggling to cope with the enormous devastation left by tropical storm Sendong (international code name: Washi).

The number of casualties continued to mount with the Philippine Red Cross (PRC) reporting that as of 6:30 p.m., a total of 713 people were killed, while over 500 others remain missing.

PRC secretary general Gwen Pang said a total of 346 people were reported killed in Cagayan de Oro city while 279 more died in Iligan.

Bukidnon registered 47 deaths; three from Zamboanga del Norte; nine from Lanao del Notre; five from Compostela Valley and one from Surigao del Sur.

In Negros Oriental, 36 people were reported killed.

Meanwhile, 563 people are still missing, according to the PRC.

Office of Civil Defense chief Benito Ramos said the mass burial pushed through in both Cagayan de Oro and Iligan late Monday afternoon.

Filipinos carry a coffin during a mass burial near a landfill in
the village of Zayas in Cagayan de Oro City, southern
Mindanao, Philippines, 19th December 2011.
In Cagayan de Oro, the mass burial was held in Barangay Pamamanhan  while the mass burial in Iligan was held in Barangay Paitan. But Ramos said not all opted for mass burial.

"Pero kaunti lang ito dahil yung iba dito ayaw ng mass burial. Kaya ang desisyon nito sa Department of Health at saka yung local government. Hindi lang ako makialam dahil nirerespeto ko yung kultura ng ating kababayan [But these are only few because others do not want a mass burial. That's why this decision came from the Department of Health and the local government. I won't intervene because I respect the culture of our countrymen]," he said.

Meanwhile, Regional Health Director Dr. Jaime Bernadas said they are awaiting the labeling and tagging of the bodies by local police and NBI (National Bureau of Investigation) agents to proceed with the mass burial.

He said it is up to the local government of CDO and Iligan to determine the burial site. He also could not confirm reports that the bodies were piled up near a landfill while waiting for the labeling and tagging to finish. Bernadas said as far as he knew, the bodies were currently at the funeral homes.

However, according to InterAksyon correspondent Cong Corrales, quoting Sr. Supt. Jesus Vinluan, chief of the Region 10 police crime laboratory, said cadavers had been temporarily transferred to the city landfill in Zayas, Barangay Carmen, because the decomposing bodies had become a biohazard.

A Reuters report confirmed this, saying officials moved hundreds of unclaimed bodies to a sanitary landfill for a mass burial after residents complained of the stench.

Funeral parlors who could no longer accommodate the coffin demands for the dead bodies, likewise, did the same.

These actions were of course criticize by some groups, stating these actions were inhumane because the bodies were treated as if it's worst than animals.

Filipinos carry a coffin of a victim of the floods,
in Cagayan de Oro City, southern Mindanao.
Cagayan de Oro Mayor Vicente Emano said officials were planning to put some bodies into refrigerated trucks until law enforcement agencies identify the dead through fingerprints and DNA tests.

But in a TV5 interview on the transfer of the cadavers to the landfill, Emano said they had "no choice" because he could find nowhere else to transfer the bodies.

The independent news site Mindanews also reported on the transfer of the bodies to the landfill and managed to take photos and some video footage of the cadavers laid down on the garbage-strewn ground.

Mindanews' Froiland Gallardo, who shot the photos, said the city government "transferred 30 bodies from Bollozos Funeral Homes in Barangay Bulua to the garbage landfill in Zayas, Barangay Carmen Sunday night."

"The reason is the bodies had bloated and smelled a lot. Since no one came forward to claim the bodies, the city government said the bodies would be better at the landfill where (these) could still be viewed by relatives," he said.

The head of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, Benito Ramos, had earlier suggested digging mass graves to prevent outbreaks of disease.

Portraits from a family album are seen inside a damaged house
in a town that was devastated by rampaging flood waters in
Iligan City, southern Mindanao, Philippines.
But officials in Iligan took a different approach, saying they would bury about 80 bodies at a public cemetery on Monday - but in individual plots and tombs. Workers were rushing to construct tombs

"Definitely, we are not burying them in mass graves. That is not allowed any more," Levi Villarin, city health officer, told Reuters.

Authorities are studying the possibility of putting some of the identified bodies in temporary burial sites or in shallow graves in case some of their relatives come in to claim them. Bernadas assured the public that these bodies will be treated to prevent any health hazards.

500 caskets from Pampanga

A religious icon sits amongst the damaged houses in a town
that was devastated by rampaging flood waters in Iligan City,
southern Mindanao, Philippines.
Meanwhile, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) will be sending 400 to 500 caskets to CDO and Iligan City by Tuesday.

AFP spokesman Col. Arnulfo Burgos said these caskets were donated by local government officials in Pampanga. The caskets together with other relief goods will be ferried to Mindanao via the landing ship vessel BRP Dagupan.

Bodies that were washed out to sea have begun rising to the surface, and mortuaries are overwhelmed as emergency teams struggle to find survivors and tend to some 47,000 people huddled in evacuation centers.

Up to 50 of about 300 bodies recovered in Iligan since Sendong (Washi) struck in the early hours of Saturday will be communally interred, possibly during the day, so that they do not pose a health risk, city mayor Lawrence Cruz said.

"Today we will dig a mass grave and bury the unclaimed bodies as well as those in an advanced state of decomposition," he said on national television.

He said funeral homes already packed with unclaimed corpses were now turning away the newly recovered dead.

Iligan city health officer Levi Villarin told AFP the mass burial could happen during the day after the authorities complete the formal process of documenting the features of each body for possible future identification.

"That is possible, but we have to follow the proper procedure," Villarin said.

Ramos said six helicopters and two dozen boats were dispatched to search for survivors and drowning victims.

"From the helicopter, we saw four major river systems, all houses along the riverbanks were totally destroyed," he said.

Some bodies were found on the shore of Camiguin island, 77 kms (47 miles) from Cagayan de Oro.

Rescuers pulled the bodies of at least 13 people from a two-storey concrete house in Iligan flattened by huge logs that fell from the mountains. They fear more bodies lay under the debris as many residents sought safety there, thinking the house could withstand the flash floods.

Philippine Red Cross expect more deaths

PRC chairman and broadcaster Richard "Dick" Gordon visited the two worst hit areas of Cagayan de Oro City and Iligan. He expressed Red Cross' concern over the plight of the thousands of families whose lives were traumatized, especially with the coming holiday season.

"Many are wounded and need anti-tetanus drugs. We are bringing supplies of food for over 4,000 people as well as non-food items like blankets, mosquito nets, and immediate supplies," Gordon said.

Red Cross data showed that a total of 75 villages in 20 municipalities were affected by the storm, including 18 in Compostela Valley; 17 each in Cagayan de Oro and Zamboanga del Norte; 15 in Iligan; and eight in Dumaguete.

Overall, the storm has so far affected 5,844 families or 20,433 individuals. Many are currently housed in the 23 evacuation centers set-up in affected areas, said the PRC.

But the government said nearly 143,000 people were affected by the flashfloods and landslides, of which 45,000 people were staying in evacuation centers. The rest stayed with relatives.

Save the Children, a London-based non-government organization, estimated more than half of those affected were children.

A Reuters photographer saw three white wooden coffins of children aged 7 to 10 years old lined up at a church in Iligan. The church was converted into an evacuation center.

President Benigno Aquino visited the disaster zone after ordering a review of the country's disaster defenses.

International Support

Pope Benedict XVI prayed for the victims of the latest natural disaster to hit the largely Roman Catholic archipelago, which is also prone to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

The United States offered assistance as Manila appealed for help to feed, clothe, and house the many thousands sheltering in evacuation centers, including many slum dwellers whose makeshift homes were no match for Sendong's fury.

The Chinese embassy has donated P440,000 for disaster relief operations which it coursed through the Philippine Red Cross.

The foreign ministers of Japan and Britain also expressed sympathy and offered to help in the rehabilitation of the areas destroyed by the floods.

An AFP photographer saw a 30-member military and police rescue team landing Sunday in Bayug, a delta area near Iligan that was formerly home to a fishing community estimated by officials to have had up to 1,000 residents.

The delta had been swept clean of most structures, leaving those left alive having to rebuild huts with scrap wood.

Ramos, the disaster agency chief, said most of the victims were "informal settlers" - a term used for slum squatters who are often unregistered by authorities.

"They were not prepared for the typhoon," he said on Sunday, adding that the floods struck "at an unholy hour, 2 a.m., when everybody was asleep."

Authorities likened tropical storm Sendong to Ondoy, one of the country's most devastating storms which dumped huge amounts of rain on Manila and other parts of the country in 2009, killing more than 460 people.


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