More floods sweep Visayas, Mindanao

Residents of a flooded village in San Juaquin in Palo, Leyte, rescue their pig from the rising waters brought by heavy rain Tuesday.

Residents of a flooded village in San Juaquin in Palo, Leyte, rescue their pig from the rising waters brought by heavy rain Tuesday.

MANILA – The number of evacuees in Mindanao and the Visayas continued to rise as the flooding caused by rain brought by a low-pressure area swept several areas, disaster officials said Tuesday.

Surigao del Sur, Surigao del Norte, Oriental Mindoro, Dinagat, Cebu and Leyte were the areas most affected by the flooding, said Benito Ramos, executive director of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council.

“We have zero casualty so far because our local disaster offices and local officials were able to implement preemptive evacuations,” Ramos said.

In other developments:

• Malacañang said it failed to focus on the warnings of possible devastating floods in Mindanao as it was preoccupied with “clearing the land mines” left by the Arroyo administration

• The Organization of Islamic Conference has sent a four-man delegation to Cagayan de Oro City to assess the damage there and determine what kind of assistance its member states could extend

• Health Secretary Enrique Ona urged Cagayan de Oro and Iligan City residents to “adopt” families who might have lost most of their belongings in the floods

• The Thai government donated $100,000 to the flood victims

• Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corp. donated P10.89 million to the Red Cross for recovery and relief efforts.

The death toll from the flash floods that swept away entire villages in Mindanao climbed to nearly 1,500 on Tuesday as authorities widened their search for bodies.

The Office of Civil Defense’s latest tally listed 891 dead in Cagayan de Oro and an additional 451 in nearby Iligan city. The rest came from several other provinces. Most of the dead are unidentified.

“The search will continue as long as we are recovering bodies,” Ramos said.

Disaster officials later said the number of people who died in the floods was smaller than earlier reported.

Ramos said he had corrected an earlier death toll from the Health Department of nearly 1,500 to 1,249 based on the actual count of identified and unidentified bodies recovered by soldiers, policemen, firemen and rescue workers.

He said the number of missing could no longer be determined, but the search for bodies would go on.

Ramos said decomposing remains were retrieved floating in the sea as far as 60 miles 100 kilometers from the two cities where a Dec. 16 tropical storm unleashed more than a month’s worth of rainfall in 12 hours, sending walls of water gushing into homes.

One of the dead was a headless girl who appeared to have been hit by logs that were carried by the flash floods, Ramos said. She was among 13 bodies retrieved by a team of Navy sailors.

Navy and Coast Guard divers were initially sent to find more bodies believed to be pinned down by logs scattered in the sea and along riverbanks, but Ramos said the operation had to be called off because the waters were too murky.

“It’s useless to dive when you can see nothing,” he said.

It was not clear how many more are missing.

More than 60,000 homeless people from hundreds of flood-ravaged villages spent a miserable Christmas in jam-packed schools and gymnasiums, while the United Nations launched an urgent appeal for $28 million to help the displaced—more than half the population of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan.

More rain on Tuesday prompted the evacuation of nearly 2,000 people on the opposite side of Mindanao, where a child was reported missing in the floods in Surigao city, the Office of Civil Defense reported.

President Benigno Aquino III, who banned logging in February following the previous flooding deaths that experts say were caused partly by deforestation and soil erosion, has ordered an investigation

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