* Hundreds remain missing in southern Mindanao region
* Many villages destroyed by mud and flood waters
* Survivors rescued after being swept out to sea
By Erik de Castro
CAGAYAN DE ORO, Philippines, Dec 19 Disaster
agencies on Monday rushed to deliver body bags, food, water, and
medicine to crowded evacuation centres in the southern
Philippines as officials considered digging mass graves for
hundreds killed in weekend flash floods.
The national disaster agency said 533 died and 309 remain
missing, while the local Red Cross put the toll at 652 killed
and more than 800 missing.
Casualties from the flashfloods exceeded the more than 450
people killed in 2009 when a tropical storm dumped heavy rains
on the main Luzon island, inundating nearly the entire capital
Typhoon Washi slammed ashore in the Mindanao region of the
Philippines while residents slept at the weekend, sending
torrents of water and mud through riverside villages and
sweeping houses out to sea.
In the aftermath, radio stations and local governments have
been deluged by calls and appeals from survivors asking for help
to bury the dead or find missing relatives.
"My suggestion is, so that illnesses won't spread, let's
have mass graves," Benito Ramos, head of the national disaster
agency, said in a radio interview. "This will be the discretion
of local governments and the DOH (Department of Health)."
"From the helicopter, we saw four major river systems, all
houses along the riverbanks were totally destroyed."
Josephine Dalangin, a resident of Cagayan de Oro, said she
and three other residents, including a boy, survived by clinging
on a tree trunk for 11 to 12 hours while floating in the sea
before they were rescued by a passing boat.
"I did not feel hunger, I did not feel any thirst," Dalangin
told a local radio station. "I just prayed to the Lord that the
rains, winds and waves would stop."
The cities of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan, worst hit by the
disaster, are running out of evacuations centres and coffins for
the dead, with churches also converted into temporary
Brigadier General Roland Amarille, head of an army task
force in Iligan, said on Sunday soldiers had been mobilized to
recover bodies and build coffins.
"We need body bags and lime to deal with too many cadavers,"
Amarille said, fearing an outbreak of disease.
"Local mortuaries are no longer accepting cadavers and they
are even asking people to bury the dead at once because there
are too many bodies even in hallways."
Mindanao island, the southernmost in the Philippines, is a
mineral-rich region that also produces rice and corn but is not
normally in the path of an average 20 typhoons that hit the
Southeast Asian country each year.
(Writing by Rosemarie Francisco)