Share |

2 days after Sendong: dead bodies pile up

MANILA, Philippines (Dec 19, 2011) - The Red Cross reports 652 people confirmed dead, mostly based on head count of cadavers brought to funeral homes, and lists 808 as missing;  the government’s Office of Civil Defense  counter-check s its figures with the victims’ relatives and release its lower count of 512  dead and 274 missing.  Whatever the reported figures, observers note that dead bodies have began piling up as rescue workers race against time to locate the hundreds still missing from the flashfloods brought by tropical storm Sendong (Washi) that killed hundreds of people across vast areas in Mindanao over the weekend.

Entire villages were washed away when tropical storm “Sendong” (international name “Washi”) whipped Mindanao early Saturday, leaving a trail of flattened homes, broken bridges and upended vehicles and rescuers fought through mud, fatigue and stench of death to help dazed survivors.

The government and the Philippine Red Cross (PRC) appealed for help to feed, clothe and house more than 35,000 people huddled in evacuation centers as 20,000 soldiers battled to recover bodies from the muck.

The PRC said 652 people were confirmed dead as of press time. The number of people listed as missing had increased to 808, it said, while cautioning that some of the missing might be among the bodies already retrieved but not yet identified. As verification continues, the figures for the missing are expected to decrease.

The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) also reported almost the same figure of dead and missing.

The NDRRMC said fatalities were recorded in Central Visayas, the Zamboanga Peninsula, Davao region, Northern Mindanao, Caraga and Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

The bulk of fatalities, almost 300, came from Northern Mindanao, particularly in Cagayan de Oro and Lanao del Norte. NDRRMC executive director Benito Ramos said the figure cited by the PRC remains unverified but admitted that the number of fatalities could increase.

“The number may increase since the rescue operations are still ongoing,” Ramos said.

A 20,000-strong military force has been mobilized in a huge rescue and relief operation in the major ports of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan City that were worst hit by the floods.

PRC secretary-general Gwendolyn Pang warned that many more bodies could still be found.

“We are only counting the actual dead bodies that were sent to funeral parlors,” Pang said. “The affected area is so wide and huge and I believe they have not really gone to all areas to do a search.”

There could still be bodies inside houses that were carried off by the floods, Pang said.

“It’s difficult to be certain on those missing,” she said. “The floods washed out whole houses and families inside. It’s possible entire families are dead and no one is reporting them missing.”

Disaster and health officials were struggling to deal with the scores of bodies that have been recovered, some stacked in local mortuaries.

Leonardo Vicente Corrales, a freelance journalist in Cagayan de Oro said fast-rotting corpses were piling up by the dozen at mortuaries that had run out of coffins.

“The bodies are decomposing too quickly because they are drowning victims - because there is muddy water in their bodies,” he said.

“They also cannot embalm them because they do not have water and are running out of formalin (formaldehyde embalming fluid).”

Regional military spokesman Maj. Eugene Osias said many of the recovered bodies have yet to be identified in the different funeral homes.

“Piles of cadavers have remained in different funeral homes. Some are wrapped only with blankets. Many of the victims were children,” Osias said.

Officials said the difficulty of identifying the bodies also brought confusion as to the exact number of fatalities.

Iligan Mayor Lawrence Cruz said it appeared that his city suffered most.

He said military rescue units led by Brig. Gen. Roland Amarille have already recovered 212 bodies, with still hundreds still missing.

While floodwaters have subsided, Amarille said joint rescue forces continued the search in Iligan City.

Like ‘Ondoy’

Authorities likened Sendong to “Ondoy,” one of the country’s most devastating storms that dumped huge amounts of rain on Metro Manila and other parts of the country in 2009, leaving a death toll of over 460.

Sendong could be the most destructive storm to hit the country this year in terms of casualties, exceeding even that of Ondoy (international name “Ketsana”), which killed 464 people.

Like Ondoy, Sendong was categorized only as a storm but caused so much damage in a day because of the rains it spawned.

Pang attributed the huge amount of rainfall to global warming.

“This (devastation brought by Sendong) pose challenges to us... We need to educate people with this kind of change in climate,” Pang said. “The volume of rainfall for one month fell for just one day.”

Pang attributed the high number of casualties in the affected areas to the fact that residents there were not used to being hit by strong storms.

“Mindanao is usually not a typhoon-prone area that is why most residents were caught unprepared. Many were shocked. This could have contributed to the extensive damage,” she said.

Ramos earlier had said residents in the region apparently underestimated the threat posed by the approaching storm.

Ramos suggested that some residents dismissed the threat since storms rarely hit Mindanao, which is outside the country’s typhoon belt.

He said that even before Sendong made landfall, authorities had already issued warnings to residents in the storm’s path.

In just 12 hours, Sendong dumped more than a month of average rains on Mindanao, according to the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA).

In its latest advisory, PAGASA said Sendong continued to move westward over the West Philippine Sea.

As of 5 p.m. yesterday, all public storm signals had been lifted in the affected areas.

As of 4 p.m. yesterday, the eye of Sendong was spotted at 410 kilometers west-northwest of Puerto Princesa City, packing winds of 65 kilometers per hour near the center and gustiness up to 80 kph.

It was forecast to move west at 24 kph and leave the Philippine area of responsibility last night.


The NDRRMC said a total of 19,759 families or 108,130 people in six regions have been affected by the storm. A total of 6,101 families or 34,841 are inside 30 evacuation centers. Ramos said 310 houses were damaged.

The NDRRMC said flooding occurred in parts of Capiz, Negros Oriental, Zamboanga del Norte, Lanao del Norte, Bukidnon, Misamis Oriental, Misamis Occidental, Compostela Valley, Davao del Norte and Lanao del Sur. Landslides were reported in Compostela Valley and Lanao del Sur.

Ramos said Dumaguete City and the municipality of Valencia, both in Negros Oriental, have been placed under state of calamity. This would allow local governments to tap their calamity funds to help their constituents, he said.

Pang, on the other hand, called on local government units in the affected areas to prepare the people for possible disasters such as typhoons.

“Preparedness and disaster risk reduction are very important to prevent unnecessary loss of lives and resources. We must work together and continue to educate the various communities,” she said.

Pang added the PRC is now working to prevent the spread of diseases in flood-hit areas.

“Floodwaters have receded already so most likely the problem now should be in their own houses... We expect common illnesses like cough and colds, diarrhea because of the water problem. There is a possibility of diarrhea and other water borne diseases,” Pang said.

“We are going to set up water stations in Iligan and Cagayan de Oro. Give them potable water and we will promote hygiene in these two areas so that we can prevent illnesses and again we have relief goods,” she added. (From