Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Philippines typhoon kills hundreds

Rescuers search for nearly 400 missing

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NEW BATAAN, Philippines -- Stunned parents searching for missing children examined a row of mud-stained bodies covered with banana leaves while survivors dried their soaked belongings on roadsides as the death toll from the southern Philippines' powerful typhoon climbed to about 350 people today with nearly 400 missing.

The Office of Civil Defence reported that more bodies were retrieved from hardest-hit Compostela Valley and Davao Oriental as well as six other provinces.

At least 200 of the victims died in Compostela Valley alone when typhoon Bopha struck Tuesday, including 78 villagers and soldiers who perished in a flash flood that swamped two emergency shelters and a military camp. "Entire families may have been washed away," said Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, who visited New Bataan on Wednesday.

The farming town of 45,000 people was a muddy wasteland of collapsed houses and coconut and banana trees felled by Bopha's ferocious winds.

Bodies of victims were laid on the ground for viewing by people searching for missing relatives. Some were badly mangled after being dragged by raging floodwaters over rocks and other debris. A man sprayed insecticide on the remains to keep away swarms of flies.

A father wept when he found the body of his child after lifting a plastic cover. A mother, meanwhile, went away in tears, unable to find her missing children. "I have three children," she said repeatedly, flashing three fingers before a TV cameraman.

Two men carried the mud-caked body of an unidentified girl that was covered with coconut leaves on a makeshift stretcher made from a blanket and wooden poles.

Dionisia Requinto, 43, felt lucky to have survived with her husband and their eight children after swirling flood waters surrounded their home. She said they escaped and made their way up a hill to safety, bracing themselves against boulders and fallen trees as they climbed.

"The water rose so fast," she told The Associated Press. "It was horrible. I thought it was going to be our end."

In nearby Davao Oriental, the coastal province first struck by the typhoon as it blew from the Pacific Ocean, at least 115 people perished, mostly in three towns so battered that it was hard to find any buildings with roofs remaining, provincial officer Freddie Bendulo and other officials said.

"We had a problem where to take the evacuees. All the evacuation centres have lost their roofs," Davao Oriental Gov. Corazon Malanyaon said.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies issued an urgent appeal for $4.8 million to help people directly affected by the typhoon.

The sun shined brightly for most of the day Wednesday, prompting residents to lay their soaked clothes, books and other belongings out on roadsides to dry and revealing the extent of the damage to farmland. Thousands of banana trees in one Compostela Valley plantation were toppled by the wind, the young bananas still wrapped in blue plastic covers.

But as night fell, however, rain started pouring again over New Bataan, triggering panic among some residents who feared a repeat of the previous day's flash floods. Some carried whatever belongings they could as they hurried to nearby towns or higher ground.

After slamming into Davao Oriental and Compostela Valley, Bopha roared quickly across the southern Mindanao and central regions, knocking out power in two entire provinces, triggering landslides and leaving houses and plantations damaged. More than 170,000 fled to evacuation centres.

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 6, 2012 A18

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