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Clear-up begins in the Philippines as concern mounts for the homeless

In the northern part of Mindanao, Filipinos are beginning a massive clear-up following the worst typhoon to hit this part of the island in over fifty years.

Typhoon Washi brought torrents of water, mud and logs crashing into homes along rivers and coastal areas, killing over 1,000 people. Most of the casualties were from the cities of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan. Many residents are still missing. In order to reduce the risk of disease, local authorities are having to bury hundreds of bodies yet to be claimed by families. Tags with identifying features are being placed on the body bags for possible future identification.

Now concern is focusing on the survivors of the disaster. Over 275,000 people are believed to be homeless. Nearly 44,000 of these have been placed in evacuation shelters, set up in schools, churches and other public buildings. However, the centres are extremely crowded and some Filipinos are already saying they wish to leave and return to their destroyed or damaged homes. Aid agencies have begun appealing for money to ease the situation of overcrowding and provide temporary shelters for some of the homeless.

The acting United Nations (UN) humanitarian coordinator, Soe Nyunt, visited the affected region and raised concerns about “poor water, sanitation and hygiene conditions”. Unless access to sanitation and clean water can be provided quickly, the UN’s coordinator feared there could soon be outbreaks of disease. Reuters reported Soe Nyunt as saying that any health threats would “compound the hardships of the people already weakened by hunger and grief from loss of family and friends”. The UN has appealed for an additional 28.6 million dollars to help the victims of the typhoon.

According to a weather bureau official who spoke to Reuters, Typhoon Washi brought over 180mm of rain in a 24-hour period, when the average for northern Mindanao is 113mm across the whole of December. The damage to the cities of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan is extensive. Whole areas have been flattened and key infrastructure has been damaged or destroyed. The government has promised 1.14 million dollars to begin rebuilding in the two cities. The president, Benigno Aquino, also declared a state of national calamity and said a further 22.79 million dollars would be raised in calamity funds and soft loans from agencies such as the World Bank.

In the meantime, locals are doing their best to survive each day in crowded and unsanitary conditions. With the complete destruction of many houses, families are resigned to spending Christmas and the New Year in public shelters. Given the scale of the damage, some also realise that reconstruction will take many, many months. One man in an evacuation shelter told Reuters that he might possibly be at the centre “until Christmas 2013”.

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