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19 December 2011

Tropical Storm Washi: Widespread devastation on the ground

Ted Algibe/AFP/Getty Images - A girl carries salvaged belongings through a muddy street in Cagayan de Oro on Dec. 18, 2011, a day after Tropical Storm Washi passed through the city.

December 17, 2011, Cagayan de Oro City – World Vision aid workers assisting survivors in the flooded communities of Southern Philippines described a scene of widespread devastation and grief today, after more than 652 have been left dead and more missing following Tropical Storm Washi’s landfall.

“The most urgent needs are water and ready-to-eat foods,” said World Vision aid worker John Salva, in hard-hit area of Cagayan de Oro. “Even if people were able to salvage rice, there is no safe water or electricity to cook it.”

Overnight, as the storm approached, World Vision staff worked with local authorities to warn residents living in the mountain slopes and in the low-lying and flood-prone areas of the danger of flash floods and landslides. Many were asleep in their homes when the worst of the floods hit, and the high volume of water took people by surprise, killing those trapped in their homes, particularly children and the elderly who could not escape.

“People told us they woke up to find their belongings, TV sets and the like, floating past them. The flooding came from nowhere,” said Salva.

Thousands of people are in evacuation centres, but some families have returned to their houses because the centres are congested. As the rains have stopped and floods in some areas have subsided, some people are trying to salvage wet and muddy belongings.

The number of casualties could climb higher, the aid teams warned, as the number of missing is in the hundreds.

World Vision’s Crislyn Felisilda reported that the wellbeing of children who had lost or been separated from family members was a top concern for the organisation.

“I spoke with a 13-year-old girl, Remy, whose mother was found dead and whose father and two siblings were still missing,” said Felisilda. “Many children like Remy that I spoke with were crying, others just stared into space. Many children are looking for their loved ones.”

Regular World Vision activities in many areas of Mindanao were postponed to ensure the safety of the staff, volunteers, families and children. Communities had planned holiday festivities, as Filipinos mark the start of the traditional nine-day Simbang Gabi (Mass of Dawn) leading up to Christmas Eve.

World Vision assists more than 65,000 children and their communities Mindanao and Visayas alone. Last June, when large parts of Davao City were flooded, World Vision provided relief items and housing assistance to more than 2,500 families, and opened Child-Friendly Spaces for 1,100 affected children.

To arrange media interviews, please contact:

Gjeff Lamigo, Communications Manager, National Office (Quezon City) Email: gjeff_lamigo@wvi.org Phone: +639993782903

John Salva, Response Manager, Mindanao Phone: +639176240671

Crislyn Felisilda, Field Communications Specialist, Mindanao Phone: +639493949532

- ReliefWeb