Extra coffins shipped to storm-hit Philippine area

October 12, 2009 7:22:17 AM PDT
Authorities sent more than 200 coffins Monday to the typhoon-battered northern Philippines for the grim task of burying the storm's victims, including a family of eight whose house was buried under a torrent of mud. The nationwide death toll from landslides and flooding stood at more than 600 since back-to-back storms started pounding the northern Philippines on Sept. 26. Hundreds of thousands are still displaced, and the damage from the worst flooding in 40 years has run into hundreds of millions of dollars.

The death toll was so high that some areas ran out of coffins. More than 200 wooden caskets assembled in neighboring provinces were expected in Baguio, where more funerals were planned, said regional disaster-relief director Olive Luces.

Baguio city, in the heart of the Cordillera mountain range where at least 277 people died, organized a burial for a family of eight, including six children, whose house along Marcos Highway was pinned down by other houses that tumbled down a mountainside late Thursday.

"I am saddened by what happened," said Mildred Ligos, a cousin of Leonora Pinol Picar, who died with her husband and their children aged 1 to 11. She said she hadn't seen her cousin in years because they lived in different areas. "And then we met again only now."

Flooding and mudslides had blocked three key roads to the area, isolating the upland region for three days. Many international tourists were among those stranded.

Gasoline was still in short supply and panic buying of canned goods emptied several stores in Baguio city.

But the situation was improving after four twin-rotor U.S. Marine CH-46 helicopters flew in eight tons of supplies Sunday. President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo also came by helicopter and ordered officials to hasten efforts to reopen the roads.

One was reopened Sunday, but only partly, allowing light vehicles to pass. Priority items included canned goods, sugar, candles, laundry soap and kitchen items, said Myrna Pablo, the city director of the Department of Trade and Industry.

Lines at gasoline stations were getting shorter, and tankers were expected to reach Baguio later Monday, she said.

In nearby Benguet province, most of the 189 dead were recovered in a mountainside community called Little Kibungan.

Marsman Diang recalled frantically digging through the mud Friday for his five nieces and nephews. Four were found dead, wrapped in a bedsheet. One was pulled out barely breathing and did not make it to the hospital alive.

The children's father, Diang's brother, left to work in Japan two months ago to raise money for the kids' education. He heard about their deaths in a phone call from Diang.

"He couldn't talk. I heard him weeping with his wife when I called to tell them that their children were gone," Diang said.

About 700 U.S. Marines and sailors on land and at sea were helping out with the relief effort.

Before Tropical Depression Parma struck Oct. 3, the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, based in Okinawa, Japan, had been helping in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Ketsana, which caused massive floods in and around Manila on Sept. 26. That storm killed some 337 people.

After making landfall, Parma roared back and forth across the north for a week and dumped 27 inches (685 millimeters) of rain on Oct. 8 -- more in one day than the monthly average.

In Manila, John Holmes, the U.N.'s humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, visited a suburban Manila sports stadium filled with more than 2,000 residents displaced by Ketsana's floods. He chatted with children under a tree about their ordeal.

Holmes later met Arroyo and Cabinet officials to discuss the massive relief work and said nearly $20 million has been raised so far by the U.N. to help buy food, water and temporary shelter for flood victims.

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Associated Press writers Teresa Cerojano, Jim Gomez and Hrvoje Hranjski in Manila contributed to this report.


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