By AFP and Ben R. Rosario | Manila Bulletin
MANILA, Philippines — Philippine Red Cross secretary-general Gwedolyn Pang on Thursday said that the exact toll of tropical storm “Sendong” may never be known as some of those reported missing may in fact be among the dead, and there could be many more whose disappearance was never reported.
“Many will never be found and we don’t know how many are really missing. No one will report them because entire families were swept away,” Pang added.
“By this time, there will be no survivors, just dead bodies,” National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council Executive Director Benito Ramos added.
He said bodies of victims of “Sendong” still litter the waters off Northern Mindanao.
The official death toll from last weekend’s disaster, which swept away shantytowns built near major rivers, has exceeded a thousand but some authorities said hundreds more people could be missing and may never be found.
Ramos put the death toll at 1,010 while the NRRMC put the number of missing at 51.
Iligan City Mayor Lawrence Cruz said that in his city alone, more than 400 residents had been reported missing, with another 283 confirmed dead.
“We could only assume they are dead already. There is so much mud that has to be cleared up and maybe the missing are buried deep inside,” Cruz said.
Iligan and nearby Cagayan de Oro accounted for most of the confirmed deaths so far.
A navy vessel recovered 11 badly decomposed bodies off the coastal town of Salay last Wednesday, navy spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Omar Tonsay told AFP.
“Recovering bodies at sea is difficult because of the sheer volume of debris. You have to ram logs and risk holing your hull or entangling your propellers,” Tonsay added.
Ramos said the maritime search could continue for two more weeks, but warned that many bodies may have sunk underwater and would never be found.
The main priority now is finding permanent shelter for the 309,000 people displaced by the floods, particularly the more than 43,000 housed in cramped evacuation centers, he said.
Health officials have warned of the risk of epidemics breaking out at the camps, which remain without proper water supply and sanitation.
Many of those in the evacuation centers are forbidden from returning home as the flood-prone areas have been identified by government as too dangerous for human habitation.
With rescue officials slowly losing hope on survivors, relief aid continues to pour.
On Thursday, San Juan Rep. Joseph Victor Ejercito decided to donate his entire salary for 2012 to victims of “Sendong.”
Likewise, the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (TECO) in the Philippines donated US$150,000. Social Welfare and Development Secretary Dinky Soliman accepted the check donation worth US$150,000 from TECO Representative Donald Lee.
Senators also extended assistance to “Sendong” victims.
Senator Manny Villar, through his Manny Villar Jr. Foundation, gave cash donations to mayors of the cities of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan which they may use to buy medicines and food for affected residents.
Aside from cash donations, Villar’s foundation distributed grocery items and used clothings to hundreds of storm victims.
Sen. Ramon “Bong” Revilla flew to Cagayan de Oro City on Wednesday and personally led the relief operations, while Sen. Lito Lapid, although out of the country, sent 5,000 bags of relief goods to Cagayan de Oro and Iligan.
Earlier, Sen. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. sent assorted medicines to affected areas in Northern Mindanao and Negros Oriental.
Aside from the lawmakers, local officials also pitched in to support the storm victims.
The provincial government of Cebu led by Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia will give P5 million each to the local governments of Iligan City and Cagayan de Oro City; and P1 million each for Dumaguete City and Tanjay City in Negros Oriental. It also sent a 25-man rescue and medical team to Mindanao.
Pangasinan Governor Amado Espino announced Thursday that the provincial government will give at least P1 million each to Cagayan de Oro and Iligan.
The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) also prepared 43,000 “noche buena” packs for “Sendong” victims in Cagayan de Oro and Iligan.
On Thursday, the Lucio Tan Group’s relief drive went full blast with the distribution of food, water, medicine, blankets, and body bags in various areas hit by flood.
Led by its philanthropic arm Tan Yan Kee Foundation and sister companies Asia Brewery, Agua Vida, Tanduay, PMFTC and other partner organizations, the Tan Group began airlifting relief items for 10,000 families through Philippine Airlines (PAL). The flag carrier is also working with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and private entities for free carriage of relief goods to Cagayan de Oro and Dumaguete.
PAL Chairman Lucio Tan visited Cagayan de Oro to lead relief operations with top officials of the Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry, Cagayan de Oro Filipino-Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and Federation of Filipino-Chinese Associations of the Philippines, Inc.
All-out war vs illegal logging
Meanwhile, the Catholic Church declared an all-out war against illegal logging and mining in the Cagayan de Oro river basin, following the killer flash flood.
The Archdiocese of Cagayan de Oro, led by Archbishop Antonio Ledesma, backed by civil society groups and local government units have joined hands to ask President Benigno S. Aquino III to declare the Cagayan de Oro a protected watershed area. (With reports from Ellalyn B. de Vera, Rolly T. Carandang, Mario B. Casayuran, Mars W. Mosqueda Jr., Mike U. Crismundo, Liezle Basa Iñigo, and Raymund F. Antonio)