At least 436 dead from “Sendong” flash floods

Rappler.com
Cities of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan are hit by flooding described as "worst in recent history."

[UPDATED as of 11:00PM] MANILA, Philippines – At least 436 people are dead from flash floods unleashed by Tropical Storm Sendong (international code name Washi), the Philippine Red Cross has confirmed. Close to half of them are from Cagayan de Oro City (CDO).

Red Cross Secretary-General Gwen Pang said that after CDO with 215 casualties, Iligan had the next highest number at 144. Other parts of the country that recorded  deaths on account of Sendong are as follows: Bukidnon 47, Negros Oriental 21, Compostela Valley 5, Zamboanga del Norte 3, Surigao Sur 1. Pang said their number is based on actual bodies counted in funeral parlors.

Described as one of the worst in Iligan City’s recent history, the destruction caused by the flash floods has put the city under a state of calamity. Sendong is the 19th tropical storm to hit the country this year. On average, 20 storms visit the country every year.

Earlier in the evening, the Philippine Red Cross reported at least 256 casualties, although local officials previously pegged the number of dead at 186. By 8:30 pm, the 4th Infantry Division had 133 dead and eight missing in Cagayan de Oro City.

A 6 pm report of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) however put the number at 131. The actual number of dead varied within the day and there had been conflicting accounts of casualties.

Numbers are still expected to rise in the coming hours as relatives and officials search for the missing. Pang said 162 are still missing: 147 from Cagayan de Oro and 15 from Iligan.

Swamped funeral parlors

The rising number of dead in CDO is starting to strain resources of funeral parlors and morgues in the city, as the absence of running water is making embalming difficult, if not impossible.

InterAksyon.com reported that more than 300 dead bodies have been brought to at least three funeral parlors in CDO, certainly more than the 186 bodies that local officials earlier said were recovered. The dead were retrieved from areas where flash floods struck as a result of tropical storm Sendong that hit early Saturday morning.

“It is difficult if we can’t embalm these dead bodies right away because these could be sources of diseases and with no running water, this task will be even more difficult for us,” Somo Funeral Homes manager Ryan Somo told InterAksyon.com. Somo Funeral Homes had 60 bodies while Bollozos had more than 200. A third funeral parlor, Cosmopolitan, had 17.

Sendong dropped more than 10 hours of heavy rain Friday night. Its effects, not the storm itself, caused the casualties and the most damage.

Unheeded warnings

Residents had been told to evacuate by government but because the areas affected have not been traditionally hit by flashfloods and landslides, many refused to heed the warnings.

By Friday night, floodwaters rose alarmingly fast, reaching roof-level while residents slept. Nearly all casualties died in the flashflood; five were killed in a landslide triggered by the rain, according to the NDRRMC.

Iligan City Mayor Lawrence Cruz said earlier on Saturday afternoon that residents were caught by surprise by the flash flood.

Nabigla po kami lahat. Dumating ang flash flood tulog na yung mga tao. Yung tubig-baha ay galing sa bundok na bumaba sa aming siyudad,” he said during the interview. (We were all taken by surprise. People were asleep when the flash flood hit. Flood waters that came from the mountains came rushing into the city.)

President Aquino has directed the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) to help victims of the floods and landslides caused by Sendong.

Presidential guidelines

Aquino expressed alarm over the number of casualties and pointed out that there was a “need to advance more than the 3-day warning to mitigate the impact of incoming typhoons or natural calamities.” The guidance he provided the NDRRMC included, among others:

1. the DILG and DOST should look into how the impact of disaster can be mitigated in areas with high exposure to risks

2. the NDRRMC should look at long-term mitigation measures to address problems related to the siltation of rivers, mining and deforestation

3. protocols that include maintenance and transporting costs of air, lang, and maritime assets should be reviewed

4. a crisis manual for natural disasters should be readied

Bound for Palawan

DSWD Secretary Dinky Soliman has instructed all DSWD regional offices to be on alert. The department has P29.31 million in standby funds available for relief supplies and other needs of victims.

At least 23 evacuation centers have been set up in both Cagayan de Oro and Iligan City, the worst hit areas. Water and electricity had to be cut in many parts of Cagayan de Oro, pushing residents to a state of panic. Waters remained waist-deep in Cagayan de Oro by late Saturday afternoon.

At least 20,000 people are staying in 10 evacuation centers in Cagayan de Oro alone, Soliman said.

On Saturday, at least 20,000 soldiers were reported conducting search and rescue operations: 10,000 from the Eastern Mindanao Command and an equal number from the Western Mindanao Command. The Public Information Office of the Eastern Mindanao Command said it rescued at least 2,000 people.

Sendong is expected to hit Palawan early Sunday before exiting the Philippine area of responsibility in the afternoon. – (Photo by Erwin Mascariñas of MindaNews) Rappler.com