THE Philippine president, Benigno Aquino, declared a state of national calamity yesterday, four days after this year’s strongest typhoon left nearly 1,000 people dead or missing.
The country’s national disaster agency put the death toll at 459 and a further 532 were missing, mostly in the Mindanao provinces of Compostela Valley and Davao Oriental.
“I want to know how this tragedy happened and how to prevent a repeat,” President Aquino said during a visit to storm-ravaged New Bataan, where Typhoon Bopha struck last Tuesday.
Police and volunteers have formed the bulk of the teams searching for bodies or signs of life under the tons of fallen trees and boulders swept down from hills surrounding the town, said municipal spokesman Marlon Esperanza.
“We are having a hard time finding guides,” he said. “Entire families were killed and the survivors are still in shock. They appear dazed. They can’t move.”
He said the rocks, mud, tree trunks and other rubble that litter the town have destroyed landmarks, making it doubly difficult to search places where houses once stood.
On Friday, bodies found jammed under fallen trees were marked with makeshift flags of torn cloth so they can be seen by properly equipped retrieval teams. The government has decided to bury unidentified bodies in a common grave after police forensic officers process them for future identification by relatives, Esperanza said.
Volunteers with heavy equipment and search dogs have come from the capital, Manila, about 590 miles to the north. Nearly 400,000 people have lost their homes since the typhoon struck and are crowded inside evacuation centres or staying with relatives, relying on emergency supplies from government agencies and aid groups.
The typhoon ploughed through the main southern island of Mindanao, crossed the central Philippines and carried on to Vietnam, but it has lingered over the South China Sea for the past two days.
Yesterday, the weather bureau raised storm warnings over the western part of the main northern island of Luzon after the storm veered north east.