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Tent cities loom for Philippine flood victims

26 december 2011, 18:45
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Residents affected by the devastating flash flood sleep on a gymnasium in Iligan City. ©AFP
Residents affected by the devastating flash flood sleep on a gymnasium in Iligan City. ©AFP
Tens of thousands of flash flood survivors in the Philippines face life in tent cities for months while safe areas to resettle them are sought, a top relief official said Monday, AFP reports.

More than 60,000 people displaced by tropical storm Washi are sheltering in government buildings in Cagayan de Oro and Iligan cities, most of them in schools that reopen after the holidays, civil defence chief Benito Ramos said.

"We can't construct permanent shelters for them immediately. It will take some time. They have to move into tents when schools reopen on January 3," Ramos told AFP.

Floods unleashed by the storm obliterated entire riverside communities on the north coast of the main southern island of Mindanao before dawn on December 17, many of them populated by poor migrants living in shacks built on sandbars.

Manila does not normally build houses for those left homeless by natural disasters, but President Benigno Aquino has banned the victims from returning to flood-prone areas, stationing armed police to enforce the measure.

Cagayan de Oro, which accounted for half the 1,236 officially confirmed deaths, plans to move its evacuees to a government lot on its outskirts while building homes on the rest of the six-hectare (15-acre) property, Ramos said.

Meanwhile evacuees in nearby Iligan would be moved to the city bus terminal while local authorities try to find a permanent resettlement site for them.

"It won't be easy. That (Iligan) is mainly mountainous," he said, adding the national government had no definite timetable for building permanent shelters although he expects them to be ready in six months.

"We have adequate stocks to feed them. The response from the international community has been tremendous," Ramos added.

Local officials have reported more than 1,000 people missing, a figure that Ramos, who also supervises the corpse retrieval operation by military units, considers possibly overstated.

Many of the dead remain unidentified and unclaimed at overflowing local mortuaries.

The focus of the search has shifted to the sea, where bloated bodies lie scattered in debris-strewn Iligan Bay as well as Macajalar Bay near Cagayan de Oro.

"The search is tapering off. The problem is there could still be bodies buried under the uncollected debris in the cities," Ramos said, adding the public works ministry was repairing shattered roads and bridges while military reservists had been called up to help clear away mud and other debris.

"There's no Christmas here. It's a sad spectacle," he said.

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