Aid agencies appeal for Philippine typhoon victims

Reuters News
Posted: Dec 22, 2011 8:24 AM
Aid agencies appeal for Philippine typhoon victims

By Erik de Castro

CAGAYAN DE ORO, Philippines (Reuters) - Aid agencies appealed Thursday for money to ease overcrowding at evacuation centers and find housing for thousands made homeless by flash floods and mudslides which devastated parts of a Philippine island.

Typhoon Washi, the worst typhoon to hit the north of Mindanao island in more than five decades, sent torrents of water, mud and logs cascading through riverside and coastal villages, killing 1,010 people. Dozens are missing.

The United Nations has appealed to countries to provide an additional $28.6 million assistance to typhoon victims over the next three months as authorities relocate residents of high-risk areas.

"Poor water, sanitation and hygiene conditions pose a health concern," Soe Nyunt-U, acting U.N. humanitarian coordinator, told reporters in Manila after touring flood-stricken areas.

"We must improve this situation at the soonest possible time to avoid disease outbreaks that will further compound the hardships of the people already weakened by hunger, and grief from loss of family and friends."

More than 640,000 people in 13 provinces were affected by the typhoon and nearly 44,000 have been placed in overcrowded and ill-equipped shelters -- mostly in schools, gymnasiums, churches and other public buildings.

Cagayan de Oro town, worst hit by Washi with 650 dead, has sent more medical teams to evacuation centers to prevent outbreaks of disease.

"It is way too crowded here, people are sitting or lying down like at a rally -- side by side," Aaron Neri, 59, a village chief whose house was damaged, told Reuters in one center.

Officials have told him and his neighbors that they were to be relocated permanently because their village is in a high-risk area.

"It's smelly and dirty because there's so much waste," he said of the evacuation center. "We will spend Christmas and celebrate New Year here, possibly until Christmas 2013."

Officials were jolted by the extent of damage and said the risk of water-borne disease extended far beyond the evacuation centers to all areas in the two worst-affected towns -- Cagayan de Oro and Iligann.

"I was shocked by the scale of the destruction I saw," Soe Nyunt-U said. "It was as if the cities were hit by an inland tsunami. Entire areas were completely flattened."

Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said his office had received pledges of assistance from a long list of countries, as well as the Organization of Islamic Conference and Association of South East Asian Nations.

Monsoon rain since the weekend also caused flash floods in the country's northeast, killing three people with seven missing.

(Additional reporting by Manny Mogato in Manila; Writing by Rosemarie Francisco; Editing by Ron Popeski and Robert Birsel)