By Girlie Linao — ROSALIE Abunero was restless as she waited outside a holding area where rescuers bring bodies recovered from floods and landslides caused by the strongest typhoon to hit the Philippines this year. Abunero is looking for a dozen relatives who went missing after Typhoon Bopha unleashed a cascade of muddy floodwater, logs, boulders and other debris into homes last week in New Bataan town in Compostela Valley, 950 km south of Manila.
“My grandparents, three cousins, an uncle and six siblings of my husband are still missing,” the 37-year-old mother of five said by phone. “They are probably dead, but we are not losing hope.”
Abunero’s relatives are among nearly 1,000 people still missing in the southern region of Mindanao in Bopha’s aftermath. That number could more than double the confirmed death toll of 906.
The provinces of Compostela Valley and Davao Oriental bore the brunt of the destruction with hundreds of thousands of houses flattened, buildings stripped of roofs and farms destroyed.
More than 5.4 million people were affected by the disaster with nearly half a million desperately in need of food aid and temporary shelter. Some have resorted to begging and looting to get food and other items they need.
The Office of Civil Defence said 932 people were reported missing from Bopha’s onslaught, including about 300 tuna fishermen who went out to sea despite warnings against sailing. At least 35 fishermen have so far been found. Among the 906 dead, 575 bodies have been identified but others were too damaged or decomposed, the office said. In New Bataan, the recovered bodies were lined up in an open field to allow relatives to check for their missing loved ones.
Relyn Hopeda was crying as she arrived from nearby Saranggani province to look for her husband, a soldier whose outpost was among the structures destroyed by the floods and landslides. “I want to blame someone,” she told a Manila television station.
“What have I done wrong that this has happened to me? I can’t accept it, and I’m hoping that he is still alive.” Bonifacio Adlawan, a 54-year-old father of seven, said it was also difficult for him to accept that his wife was dead after she went missing with a daughter and two grandchildren when the floods struck.
“I really love her,” he said of her wife, Carmelita, 48. “I cry every morning because I miss her.” While not giving up hope, Adlawan said he has to move on and take care of his other children and grandchildren who survived the deluge.
“But I need to give them a proper burial,” he said.
As distraught survivors looked on, soldiers and volunteers dug through thick, hardened mud, cutting up trees and logs and clearing out other debris in the search for 484 missing residents in New Bataan.
Robinson Ocheo, head of a group of volunteers from a mining company, said his team has recovered 15 bodies since last Monday.
“It’s really horrifying because we’ve only been pulling out dead bodies,” he said by telephone. “The smell is so bad, it’s affecting my team. Some have been traumatised by what we’ve seen.”
Fifty-nine people were recovered alive from Compostela Valley in the first three days of rescue operations. Since then, only bodies have been pulled out by emergency workers, who included volunteers from South Korea and the United States.
Despite the difficult task, Ocheo said his team would search for as long as they can to help those looking for their loved ones.
“Our wish is to find survivors,” he said. “We would be very thankful if we do find a survivor, but if not, we hope to find the bodies so that on Christmas Day, families would be together even if it would be a grim reunion.”
Earlier, Benito Ramos, head of the Office of Civil Defence, said the number of missing was being reviewed.
“There’s a mix-up in the number of the missing,” he told dpa. “We are double checking to make sure.” Ramos said some 300 of the missing were tuna fishermen who sailed despite warnings against setting out to sea. At least 35 have been rescued as of last Wednesday. But Ramos admitted there was less chance of finding survivors from floods and landslides in various provinces in the country.