Philippine floods: President visits disaster zone

Philippines President Benigno Aquino is visiting parts of the country which have been devastated by deadly storms.

Manila: Philippines President Benigno Aquino is visiting parts of the country which have been devastated by deadly storms.

More than 1,000 people are dead or missing after Typhoon Washi hit southern Mindanao island and surrounding areas at the weekend.

Mr Aquino has declared a national calamity and said the priority must now be the tens of thousands left homeless.

Some cities plan to conduct mass burials of unidentified bodies on Tuesday amid growing health concerns.

Disaster agencies are attempting to provide food, water, medicine and body bags, but damaged roads are hampering efforts to reach survivors in remote villages.

Mr Aquino was flown over the coastal region to see the scale of the destruction, before meeting survivors and local officials.

After widespread criticism that the authorities were caught unprepared, he promised a full review into disaster plans, to ensure such devastation could not happen again.

"First priority is to relocate to areas that no longer pose a danger to them," he told a meeting in Cagayan de Oro, where nearly 600 people lost their lives as flash floods hit early on Saturday.

A spokesman for the president, Ricky Carandang, said declaring a national calamity would enable the government to direct more funds to the relief effort, Reuters reports.

Disease fears

The BBC`s Kate McGeown in the region said the authorities now face a massive task as unclaimed bodies pile up at mortuaries. Some authorities are reported to have run out of coffins.

More bodies are still being found in the sea and the rivers, our correspondent adds, forcing officials to plan for mass burials despite opposition from relatives of the missings.

Two concrete communal tombs were being constructed in the badly hit town of Iligan, said Teresita Badiang, an engineer at the mayor`s office.

The bodies would be placed side by side "so that their burial will be dignified", she added.

About 40,000 people on Mindanao, many of whom were already desperately poor, are now living in evacuation centres after losing their homes and possessions.

John Salva, a spokesman for British aid charity World Vision, said the centres had become severely overcrowded, with signs of disease beginning to appear.

"It`s really a struggle to manage those evacuation centres, there`s a shortage of water and a shortage of food," he told ANC television.

The flash floods struck in the early hours of Saturday as a passing tropical storm coincided with high tides.

As rivers burst their banks, many were trapped in their homes as they slept, while in other areas entire villages are reported to have been swept away.

Although the Philippines is struck by several typhoons and tropical storms every year, the south of the country usually escapes the worst damage.

Bureau Report

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