Philippine floods: More coffins needed as death toll nears 1,000

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The death toll from powerful floods that swept the southern Philippines is nearing 1,000, forcing the navy to ship hundreds of white coffins to help overwhelmed aid teams.

Crews were still discovering bodies floating in the sea and mud Tuesday, according to the Associated Press, four days after Typhoon Washi dumped a month’s worth of rain in 12 hours on Friday on portions of Mindanao Island. The area doesn’t normally get hit with such muscular storms, which pulverized homes and uprooted trees.


Bodies were still being recovered from the mud-filled wastelands that were once the cities of Iligan and Cagayan de Oro, on the northern edge of Mindanao Island. The AP said 45,000 people were crowding evacuation centers, and officials were running out of coffins.

PHOTOS: Flash floods in Philippines

Bloomberg news service said President Benigno Aquino has ordered an investigation into why the death toll was high.

‘We need to know what went wrong, who was at fault and who should be held accountable,’ the president said. ‘I ask myself why this tragedy had to happen.’

According to Bloomberg, U.S. forecasters with NASA had predicted an hourly rainfall of nearly 2 inches, while the Philippine meteorological agency only expected about one-fifth to one-half that amount. A ship coming from Manila was bringing more than 400 white wooden coffins and thousands of water bottles, according to Associated Press, and families have been forced to attend mass candlelighted burials for their loved ones because of the high death toll.

Benito Ramos, who heads the government’s disaster response effort, told The Times earlier this week that officials attributed the high casualties ‘partly to the complacency of people because they are not in the usual path of storms,’ despite warnings from officials that a major system was approaching the area. Many residents anticipated the storm, but not floods.


Officials have acknowledged that illegal logging and mining contributed to the storm’s damage since there were fewer trees to hold water and prevent erosion.


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--- Rong-Gong Lin II in Los Angeles