NEW BATAAN, Philippines (Reuters) - Philippine President Benigno Aquino declared a state of national calamity on Saturday, four days after this year’s strongest typhoon left nearly 1,000 people dead or missing mostly in the country’s resource-rich south.
A price freeze on basic commodities was put into effect, and local governments were authorized to utilize their calamity funds for search, relief and rescue operations.
The national disaster agency put the death toll at 459 and a further 532 were missing, mostly in the Mindanao provinces of Compostela Valley and Davao Oriental.
Thousands have been left homeless by typhoon Bopha which hit land on Tuesday with winds stronger than Hurricane Sandy that devastated the U.S. West Coast in October.
The government sent sniffer dogs to the worst-hit provinces to help with the search for victims. Rescue workers have also requested heavy equipment to help clear debris.
“I don’t know what to do, I really don’t know where to look for them,” Anna Joy Adlawan, a 14-year-old student told Reuters at an abandoned public market in New Bataan as she and two siblings searched for their mother and other relatives.
“The last time we heard from them was when my mother called us up asking for help because floodwaters were rising. When he got here on Wednesday, our house was gone and they were also gone.
“Last Friday, we found the body of our 7-year-old nephew, but we’re still looking for eight more, and we will not stop until we find and give them proper burial.”
Bopha has weakened and is moving slowly north-northwest off the main Luzon island. An average of 20 typhoons hit the Philippines every year, some causing death and destruction.
Reporting by Erik de Castro, Rosemarie Francisco and Manuel Mogato; Editing by Jeremy Laurence