Cagayan de Oro. More than 1,000 people remain missing in the Philippines after devastating floods that have already left more than 1,000 others confirmed dead, the government said on Friday.
The latest toll stood at 1,079 missing, up from 51, and 1,080 dead, up from 1,010.
The big jump in the missing came as rural families reported large numbers of relatives had gone to work in hard-hit southern cities and remained unaccounted for, civil defense official Ana Caneda said.
“There are whole families who have gone missing or who died. No one inquired about them before,” Caneda said.
She said entire families had been wiped out in the hard-hit southern ports of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan on Mindanao island, and because they had no relatives left in the cities, there was no one to report their disappearance to the authorities.
Nearly a week after the flash floods wrought by tropical storm Washi, relatives from nearby provinces had descended on the disaster zones and raised the alarm after finding their families’ homes gone, she said.
Also, survivors who were recovering from the shock or injuries have also realized that they have missing kin, said Caneda.
“Victims who could not find their relatives are now inquiring about them,” she added.
The government’s civil defense agency, National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, listed 674 dead in and 626 missing in Cagayan de Oro, along with 312 dead and 406 missing in Iligan.
The country’s civil defense chief Benito Ramos however said: “That [missing list] is just an estimate.”
He said not even local officials could say for sure how many people had really disappeared.
Caneda, who is based in Cagayan de Oro, conceded those listed as missing could be among the unidentified bodies that are piling up at local mortuaries.
“Let us focus our attention on finding the dead and taking care of the survivors,” Ramos said.
Entire neighborhoods in Cagayan de Oro, a city of half a million people, and nearby Iligan, a port of 100,000 people, were swept away or were flattened by rampaging floodwaters early Saturday.
Many of the dead were swept to sea along with their homes.
The United Nations, which launched a $28.6 million aid appeal on Thursday, likened the disaster to that of a tsunami.
Bernard Kerblatt, the Manila representative of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, said it would airlift 42 metric tons of emergency shelters, blankets and kitchen implements later on Friday to the flood areas.
“In helping communities recover from conflict, our approach has been to fund quick, relatively low-cost projects that involve entire communities,” he said in a statement, citing fishing boats, water wells, market stalls and sewing machines.
“We believe this approach could also be effective in rebuilding fragile communities after the floods.”