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PHILIPPINES: Still struggling to reach Typhoon Bopha survivors


NEW BATAAN, (IRIN): Search teams in the southern Philippines continue to retrieve decaying bodies days after Typhoon Bopha tore through Mindanao's agricultural areas. Hundreds of thousands "desperately" need aid in the storm's aftermath, according to relief workers on the ground.

In the hardest hit area of New Bataan Township, in Compostela Valley, entire villages were wiped out by a deadly slurry of mud, rocks and timber that cascaded down the slopes minutes after Bopha made landfall on 4 December.

National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council chief Benito Ramos said on 10 December at least 647 people were killed. Another 780 remained missing.

Of the dead, more than 200 were unclaimed, perhaps because they were beyond recognition or because their relatives were among the dead as well, Ramos said.

Overwhelming damage

The typhoon slammed into the eastern coast of Mindanao Island - some 900km south of the capital, Manila - triggering landslides in mountainous areas where decades of migration had seen entire communities settle in flood-prone zones. The storm's gusts reached over 200km an hour at its peak, making it the strongest typhoon to hit the country this year.

Ramos told IRIN that people had been forewarned about Bopha. Even so, more than five million people were caught in its path.

The typhoon reduced New Bataaan to a wasteland, overwhelming local government officials in an area once considered safe from powerful weather disturbances.

Now, more than 360,000 are staying in evacuation centres or with friends and relatives, according to the UN.

"We want to rebuild, but we have nothing to use," said Narciso Magno, 40, a single father of four children, whose small farm of bananas and rice was completely destroyed. "We are running low on food. There is no source of drinking water, except from broken pipes that are possibly contaminated. We need to start from the beginning, but we need money for seeds and fertilizers. But we do not have any money."

Immediate needs

"This is three times worse than Sendong [local name for last year's deadly Tropical Storm Washi]," Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman told IRIN. "There is an immediate need now for food, dry clothes, medicines and temporary shelters."

Compared to the impact of Washi, which struck Mindanao last December, the area of devastation wrought by Bopha was more expansive, forcing President Benigno Aquino to declare a national state of calamity, Soliman said.

"The immediate challenge now is to refine the supply lines. We [must get] people food and give them a sense of security [to] cut the sense of deprivation," she said.

She acknowledged many of the homeless had been forced to beg for food by the highways, where entire families have been living in makeshift tents for days.

"Aid is coming in, but there are not enough structures left standing to house the people, so what we are doing now is building bunk houses which can then be the evacuation centres for now," she said.

On 10 December, the UN issued an appeal for US$65 million.

Apart from food, clothes and medicine, UN Humanitarian Coordinator in the Philippines Luiza Carvalho said children - some 40 percent of the displaced - need temporary "learning spaces".

Delayed aid "will further compound the hardships of the people already weakened by hunger, and grief from loss of family and friends. The devastation cannot be erased overnight," she said.


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