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28 December 2011

PHILIPPINES: More evacuations in flood-hit Mindanao

Photo: Contributor/IRIN
A young child asleep on discarded boxes at an evacuation centre in Cagayan de Oro

MANILA, 28 December 2011 (IRIN) - Ten days after tropical storm Washi caused severe flooding on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao, leaving over 1,200 dead and thousands homeless, thousands more people have been evacuated from their homes following fresh flooding, officials say.

Some 15,000 people have been evacuated from the towns of Barobo and Bislig (Surigao del Sur Province), San Francisco (Agusan del Sur Province), and Valencia (Bukidnon Province) over the past two days, after rivers burst their banks.

"We had to undertake pre-emptive evacuation. There were very heavy rains brought about by a low pressure area, adding to our problems in Mindanao," Benito Ramos, head of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC), told IRIN on 28 December.

In Valencia, 120km east of areas devastated by Washi, police and military rescue units used helicopters to pluck around 300 families from rooftops, the UN World Food Programme reported.

There have been no reports of further deaths, but Ramos and UN officials say the latest flooding is placing huge strains on the emergency services.

“The issue of further flooding is an obvious concern,” David Carden, country head of office for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). “We’re already overstretched, but we will respond to any humanitarian need provided resources and funds are available.”

Washi hit northern Mindanao on 16-18 December, with the coastal cities of Iligan and Cagayan de Oro worst affected.

According to Ramos, the death toll from Washi now stood at 1,249, with many more still missing. Over 700,000 people in 56 towns and eight cities were affected by the storm, more than half of whom needed relief assistance.

Some 54,000 people were in 53 evacuation centres around the affected area, while another 400,000 were staying with friends or relatives but still in need of assistance, the NDRRMC reported.

The search goes on

"We are continuing to search for more casualties. The fishermen are scouring shorelines, while scuba divers are struggling with murky waters in rivers because there might be bodies trapped beneath the debris," Ramos said, adding: "My heart breaks for people still looking for their loved ones. They always tell me: ‘There are still people in the rubble, many of them, please don't stop’."

Meanwhile, Cagayan de Oro city mayor Vicente Emano said schools in affected areas would reopen in February (many of them are currently being used as temporary evacuation centres).

Volunteers were constructing some 300 houses on a 10-hectare government-owned site and some people would be able to move there, but Emano said many others need relocating.

"Our relocation sites are not enough," he said, appealing for more aid. "The outpouring of assistance from the international community has been tremendous, but our biggest problem now is the transfer of these families whose houses were swept away."

Some families whose houses withstood the strong currents had returned to their homes in a bid to rebuild, he said, despite warnings that these areas remained off limits and prone to more flooding.

"The president has ordered that they be removed from high-risk areas and not allowed to go back to their homes," the mayor said, adding that after initial protests those who had gone back had been forced to abandon the area.

- IRIN