Deaths reach 957, hundreds still missing
MANILA, Philippines (UPDATE) - Tropical storm "Sendong" (international name Washi) is the world's deadliest storm this year, latest data shows.
The storm, which struck Northern Mindanao, the Visayas, and Palawan over the weekend, has now killed at least 957 people, the country's disaster management chief said Tuesday morning.
National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) Director Benito Ramos also said they have lost count of the number of people who have gone missing following the flashfloods spawned by the storm.
American meteorologist Dr. Jeff Masters, citing data from insurance broker AON Benfield, said 902 people died during a storm in Brazil in January. Meanwhile, 657 people died during the massive floods in Thailand from June to November.
Masters, who explained how the tragedy happened, said Sendong carried an unusual amount of rainwater, which came from a large stream of tropical moisture over the Pacific Ocean.
"Aiding the heavy rains were sea surface temperatures that were nearly 1 degree Celcius above average off the east coast of Mindanao, one of the top five warmest values on record," he said in a Weather Underground report.
A US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) report December 15, a day before the storm struck, said Sendong was carrying as much as 50 millimeters of rainwater, which is almost the same amount that storm Ondoy was bringing in 2009.
"Washi hit a portion of the Philippines that does not see tropical storms and typhoons very often. Mindanao is thus hit only about once every twelve years by a significant tropical storm or typhoon," Masters added.
"Since the rains fell on regions where the natural forest had been illegally logged or converted to pineapple plantations, the heavy rains were able to run off quickly on the relatively barren soils and create devastating flash floods. Since the storm hit in the middle of the night, and affected an unprepared population that had no flood warning system in place, the death toll was tragically high," he said.
National government not to blame?
Ramos, meanwhile, told ANC Primetime that the national government should not be blamed for the disaster.
"Hindi naman nagkulang government sa preparasyon. Unang-una, abiso sa kanila [affected communities] signal number 2, Northern Mindanao kasama Central Visayas," he said. "Tama [state weather bureau] PAGASA. They were forewarned. Ang mga kababayan alam ang landslide-prone area at flood-prone area. Nangyari ito sa riverbank," he said.
"We expect to rise because there are casualties in Negros, Sibula, tsaka Zamboangita," Ramos said.
Ramos said people struck by the disaster were not used to heavy rains similar to "Sendong."
"Experience natin dito, hindi kasi ito dating dinadaan ng bagyo itong Cagayan de Oro, Iligan, Misamis provinces hanggang Zamboanga del Norte," he said. "Hindi ito dinadaan kay experience nila kung mahagip sila, ma-sidesweep lang, 3 millimeters per hour lang ulan. Eh... Umabot 181mm."
Ramos told ANC's The World Tonight that coffins and cadaver bags in disaster-stricken areas in the south are now running out.
He believes that local governments should be responsible for the tragedy.
"With due respect sa mga local na pamahalaan, mukhang may pagkukulang pa rin (sila) sa response," he said.
More bodies being found
More bodies are still being retrieved in Cagayan de Oro City and Iligan, even as coffins and cadaver bags are running out
Cagayan de Oro Mayor Vicente Emano tols ABS-CBN News' Karen Davila on Monday that they have put some dead bodies in an open dumping ground for now. He said the stench from the cadavers "has become unbearable."
Emano said they have just retrieved 17 dead bodies from Jasaan, with at least 40 more bodies still floating in floodwaters.
In Iligan City, the large number of dead bodies has overwhelmed morgues and funeral parlors.
Many of the victims remain unidentified.
Over 100 bodies were brought to one funeral home, but because of the overwhelming number of cadavers, some bodies had to be placed beside the building.
The growing number of cadavers in the city has left a foul stench, as well as sought for an immediate need for formalin.
Some evacuation centers have been converted into venues for wakes.
About 47,000 people have also sought shelter in temporary evacuation sites, where food and water are running out.
Hundreds still missing in Iligan
The death toll from "Sendong" may still rise in Iligan because hundreds of people are still missing.
The Philippine National Police is still conducting rescue and retrieval operations to look for survivors.
Chief Supt. Dominador Aquino, police deputy director for eastern Mindanao, said they are not losing hope of finding survivors.
The local government has dug up a mass grave in Pala-o to temporarily dispose of unidentified remains.
Iligan City Mayor Lawrence Cruz said the shallow graves will help victims' relatives to identify bodies.
Forensic experts from the National Bureau of Investigation have arrived in Iligan to help identify the cadavers. - with reports from Karen Davila and Jeff Canoy, ABS-CBN News; ANC