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La faute à qui et à quoi ?
Philippine rescuers struggled against mud, fatigue and the stench of death Sunday to help the survivors of devastating flash floods that killed more than 650 people.
As bodies washed out to sea began rising to the surface, mortuaries were overwhelmed and emergency teams struggled to find survivors in cloying mud around the major port cities of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan on
Entire villages were swept away by floodwaters as residents, normally spared from typhoons that devastate other parts of the Philippines every year, slept in the early hours of Saturday despite storm warnings.
The Red Cross said that 652 people had been confirmed dead and another 808 were currently listed as missing.
"I'm out here retrieving bodies that are starting to rise to the surface," Benito Ramos, head of the national disaster council, told AFP by mobile phone from a rescue boat off Cagayan de Oro.
The United States offered assistance to its former colony as the Philippine government and the Red Cross appealed for help to feed, clothe and house more than 35,000 people huddled in evacuation centres.
A 20,000-strong military force normally involved in fighting Muslim insurgents in Mindanao was leading rescue and relief operations.
A 30-member military and police rescue team landed Sunday in Bayug, a delta area near Iligan formerly home to a fishing community of up to 1,000 people, an AFP photographer saw.
The delta had been swept clean of most structures, leaving those left alive having to rebuild huts with scrap wood, and Lieutenant Colonel Efren Baluyot said only 43 people were known to have survived there.
Local freelance reporter Leonardo Vicente Corrales told AFP that rotting corpses were piling up unclaimed at mortuaries in Cagayan de Oro as overworked staff ran out of embalming fluid, coffins, and water to clean them.
"The bodies are decomposing too quickly because they are drowning victims -- because there is muddy water in their bodies," he said.
One establishment, Somo Funeral Homes, turned away the bodies of two drowned children. "We are already swamped. We only have four embalmers," its owner Ryan Somo told an AFP reporter.
The mayor of Cagayan de Oro, Vicente Emano, said he expected the death toll to reach 500 just in his city, which has a population of half a million.
The local authorities opened up fire hydrants and long lines soon formed as residents queued for fresh water.
In the hamlet of Macasandig, near Cagayan de Oro, teacher's wife Divilita Cuartero, 38, said she saw two dead bodies among the wreckage of houses near her own home, which was filled with mud from the nearby Cagayan river.
"I'm thankful that we woke up in time and were able to run toward the road, otherwise we would be dead by now," the mother of one told AFP.
The Philippine National Red Cross listed 346 deaths in Cagayan de Oro and 206 in Iligan. Smaller tolls were reported in other parts of Mindanao and the central province of Negros Oriental.
Gwendolyn Pang, the organisation's secretary general, said the 808 people listed as missing could be trimmed as the dead were identified.
Authorities likened tropical storm Washi to Ketsana, 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.
Philippine President Benigno Aquino has ordered a review of the country's disaster defences as it became apparent that residents were unprepared for such a deadly storm.
Ramos, the disaster agency chief, said the government faced a formidable task with 100,000 people needing help, including those who sought refuge at schools, government buildings and gyms.
The national government has begun airlifting mats, blankets and clothes to the affected populations of the south, he added.
Debris has to be cleared, electricity and drinking water have to be restored and damaged roads and bridges must be repaired, officials said.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sent condolences to the Philippines and said in a statement: "The US government stands ready to assist Philippine authorities as they respond to this tragedy."
The Philippine Red Cross says the death toll from a storm that ravaged a wide swath of the south has risen to 652 with 808 others still missing.
Red Cross Secretary-General Gwendolyn Pang said Sunday that flash floods set off by Tropical Storm Washi killed 346 people in Cagayan de Oro city and 206 in nearby Iligan city. Deaths were also reported in five other southern and central provinces.
Pang said more people have reported missing relatives, including 447 in Iligan and 347 in Cagayan de Oro.
ILIGAN, Philippines (AP) — As a storm that killed more than 530 in the southern Philippines raged outside the store where she works, Amor Limbago worriedly called home to check on her parents, but their cellphones just kept ringing and later went dead.
Limbago, 21, rushed home as soon as the flash floods receded and confirmed her worst fear: Her parents and seven other relatives were gone, swept away from their hut by the river. They had eagerly planned a small Christmas dinner in that hut just days earlier.
"I returned and saw that our house was completely gone," a weeping Limbago told The Associated Press from Cagayan de Oro city. "There was nothing but mud all over and knee-deep floodwaters."
Tropical Storm Washi blew away Sunday after devastating a wide swath of the mountainous region on Mindanao island, which is unaccustomed to major storms.
Most of the victims were asleep Friday night when flash floods cascaded down mountain slopes with logs and uprooted trees, swelling rivers and killing at least 532 people. The late-season tropical storm turned the worst-hit coastal cities of Cagayan de Oro and nearby Iligan into muddy wastelands filled with overturned cars and broken trees.
Most of the dead were children and women, Philippine Red Cross Secretary General Gwendolyn Pang said.
With 458 others reported missing, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and top military officials flew to Cagayan de Oro to help oversee search-and-rescue efforts and deal with thousands of displaced villagers. Among the items urgently needed are coffins and body bags, said Benito Ramos, who heads the government's disaster-response agency.
"It's overwhelming. We didn't expect these many dead," Ramos said.
Although the disaster-prone Philippines is lashed by about 20 typhoons and storms annually, the devastation shocked many, coming close to Christmas — the predominantly Roman Catholic nation's most-awaited time for family reunions. Army officials in the south said they canceled Christmas parties and would donate the food to homeless survivors.
Limbago said she and her mother, Jean, 50, and father Amancio, 63, planned to have a simple Christmas dinner of spaghetti. Those plans had evaporated Sunday as she and surviving relatives checked crowded morgues, hospitals and evacuation centers for any sign of her missing parents.
Others lost homes and belongings but were happy to have survived.
Edmund Rubio, a 44-year-old engineer, said he, his wife and two children scrambled to the second floor of their house in Iligan city as floodwaters engulfed the first floor, destroying his TV set and other appliances and washing away his car and motorcycle.
"It's the most important thing, that all of us will still be together this Christmas," Rubio told the AP. "There was a nearby shantytown that was smashed by water. I'm afraid many people there may not have been as lucky as us."
Army officers reported unidentified bodies piled up in morgues in Cagayan de Oro, where electricity was restored in some areas, although the city of more than 500,000 people remained without tap water.
At least 239 died in Cagayan de Oro and 206 in nearby Iligan, the Red Cross said. The death toll was expected to rise because many isolated villages still had not been reached by overwhelmed disaster-response personnel.
"Our fear is there may have been whole families that perished so there's nobody to report what happened," Red Cross chief Pang said.
Both Iligan, a bustling industrial center about 485 miles (780 kilometers) southeast of Manila, and Cagayan de Oro were filled with scenes of destruction and desperation
A lone worker gingerly embalmed scores of bodies laid side by side in an Iligan city funeral parlor. Outside the embalming room, seven white coffins were placed in a corridor, surrounded by weeping relatives.
"Many mothers, fathers were walking from one funeral parlor to another, looking for their children," said army Maj. Eugenio Osias, who led a rescue effort in Cagayan de Oro.
Ramos attributed the high casualties "partly to the complacency of people because they are not in the usual path of storms" despite four days of warnings by officials that one was approaching.
In just 12 hours, Washi dumped more than a month of average rain on Mindanao.
Thousands of soldiers and hundreds of local police, reservists, coast guard officers and civilian volunteers were mobilized for rescue efforts, but were hampered by flooded-out roads and lack of electricity. Rescuers in boats rushed offshore to save people swept out to sea.
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