Sendong’s death toll breaches 650

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Sendong has surpassed deaths from Tropical Storms Ondoy and Pepeng

MANILA, Philippines – It’s the worst tropical storm to hit the country in the past two years, with over 650 deaths recorded by the Philippine National Red Cross (PNRC) as of 10 pm Sunday night, December 18.

This has surpassed deaths from Tropical Storms Ondoy and Pepeng which both struck in 2009. Ondoy claimed 464 lives while Pepeng left 465 dead.

Sendong already ranks third in terms of deaths left by weather disturbances that hit the country since 2000. The numbers are based on National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) figures.

Explaining the devastation that had never before been seen in the two worst hit cities of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan, PNRC secretary-general Gwendolyn Pang said, “The volume of rainfall for one month fell in just one day.”

In the middle of the night, water and mud sliced through houses and surged onto hapless villages where floodwaters breached roof levels in a little over an hour.

Not enough coffins

Official figures from the NDRRMC as of 8 pm Sunday put the dead at 334, and the missing at close to 300.

The rising number of retrieved dead bodies has funeral parlors in both cities running short of coffins especially for young children. Even toilets have become a problem.

Erika Cruz, daughter of Iligan City Mayor Lawrence Cruz, said the city is in need of “diapers, milk, sleeping mats, medicine, gauze, and hydrogen peroxide.”

President Aquino is scheduled to visit the devastated cities on Tuesday. The Department of Social Welfare and Development said it had sent to Cagayan de Oro via C130 over P2.17 million worth of relief goods.

In northern Mindanao, Cagayan de Oro is considered the commercial center and Iligan the destination for heavy industries investors. Both had attracted migrants from nearby areas.

Early warnings

In a lecture in October 2011, the executive director of the Manila Observatory, Antonia Yulo Loyzaga, warned that the Philippines ranks third in the world among countries most vulnerable to climate change. This is based on its location and exposure to natural disasters.

The country’s temperature levels are rising and are likely to have an adverse impact on Mindanao. Cagayan de Oro and Iligan cities had never experienced flooding of this magnitude as recent weather disturbances did not result in this number of deaths.

While most of the country heats up, by 2020, Loyzaga said Northern Luzon will experience more storms. This will have implications on Mindanao’s power supply as a large part of the region is dependent on hydroelectric power.

Improving systems

Disaster management and risk reduction by government ought to be improved as shown by the Ondoy and Pedring experiences. Two years later, however, under a new administration, systems are still being adjusted.

During a briefing by the NDRRMC on Saturday, President Aquino said there was a need for a crisis manual for natural disasters. He also pointed out that long-term mitigation measures that can address problems related to siltation of rivers, mining and deforestation should be examined by the NDRRMC.

Likewise, both the departments of science and technology and local government should look at how the impact of disasters can be mitigated in areas with high-risk exposure.

Urban planning, Loyzaga earlier pointed out, is as much an essential part of disaster risk reduction, as urbanization and formal development can heat up areas.

Services that are likely to be disrupted by disasters are easy to foresee – electricity and communication via cellphones and telephones. Local government officials play a key role in every disaster, she said, because most often than not, they are the first on the scene with the ability to respond to needs for help. –

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