Thousands spend Christmas in evacuation centers
CAGAYAN DE ORO—Thousands of people in Northern Mindanao will be spending Christmas in evacuation centers in the aftermath of devastating floods that left more than 1,000 people dead and another 1,000 unaccounted for.
As government workers recovered more bodies of those killed when Tropical Storm “Sendong” (international name: Washi) hit last weekend, Cagayan de Oro Mayor Vicente Emano had only bleak words for those left homeless or bereaved by the floods.
“There is no Christmas,” the mayor of the hard-hit city curtly said on Saturday when asked if he would be delivering his traditional holiday message.
Emano said city employees and search teams would be working through the Christmas holidays, recovering bodies and caring for those who evacuated their homes.
Tens of thousands of people are jammed in evacuation centers, which lacked water and sanitation facilities.
Sendong spawned heavy rains, overflowing rivers and flash floods that wiped out whole villages, many built on riverbanks and sandbars in the coastal port cities of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan.
The government civil defense agency put the death toll at 1,100, with 1,079 others reported missing. It remained unclear if some of the missing were among the hundreds of unidentified corpses already recovered.
The storm and floods have displaced around 330,000 people with more than 69,000 others huddled in evacuation centers.
Just hours after the latest death toll was announced, Cairunding Embader, a barangay captain, said his staff had found 16 more dead bodies on the outskirts of Iligan City.
To deal with the hundreds of bodies still unburied and their overwhelming stench, Emano said two large communal graves had been dug and unclaimed bodies would soon be buried in them.
While Christmas is normally one of the most festive times of the year in the country, few in the affected areas felt like celebrating.
“Because of this flood, I don’t know if our Christmases will ever be merry,” said Junie Legaspi, 32, a vendor who lost his house and livestock animals in the flood.
Huddled in an evacuation center, wearing an ill-fitting woman’s blouse donated to him, Legaspi fought back tears as he said his eight children would forever associate Christmas with the floods.
“This is the worst Christmas gift one can receive,” he said.
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