- climate - climate change - floods - food aid - Philippines
AFP - Overwhelmed Philippine authorities appealed for international aid Monday as the death toll from once-in-a-lifetime floods soared to 140 and weary survivors sheltered in squalid conditions.
Two days after the horror storm sent torrents of water through the nation's capital Manila and surrounding provinces, the government conceded it was unable to deal with the disaster on its own and needed urgent help.
"We are appealing for international humanitarian assistance," Defence Secretary Gilberto Teodoro said in a nationally televised briefing.
"The potential for a more serious situation is there and we cannot wait for that to happen."
Teodoro launched the appeal as he announced the death toll had climbed sharply to 140 people, with another 32 missing and 453,000 forced out of their flooded or destroyed homes.
The death toll is expected to jump even further, as local authorities reported dozens of other deaths that appear not to have been included in the government's figures.
President Gloria Arroyo described the deluge, which was the worst to hit Manila in more than four decades and left 80 percent of the city under water, as a "once-in-a-lifetime" storm.
"(It) was an extreme event that has strained our response capabilities to the limit. But it is not breaking us," she said.
But with the threat of disease lurking over the disaster zones and relief workers in dire shortage of supplies to help survivors, other officials said authorities were not coping.
"The system is overwhelmed, local government units are overwhelmed," the head of the National Disaster Coordinating Council, Anthony Golez, told reporters.
Authorities said some people remained stranded in their flooded homes more than 48 hours after the floods, while power and telephone services were still cut in the worst-hit areas of Manila.
Poor drainage systems meant some places remained waist-deep in water, while vast swathes of the sprawling city of 12 million people were covered in sludge.
In schools, open-air gymnasiums and other makeshift evacuation camps, tens of thousands of people were desperately short of food, water and clothes.
At one gymnasium in eastern Manila, 3,000 people were sheltering in hot and humid conditions alongside the bodies of 11 neighbours lying in coffins.
There was no running water, and human faeces lay only a metre (yards) from where people were sleeping on the concrete floor.
"We are waiting for more aid to arrive. We are trying to mobilise our own relief operations here. But we need more help," the head of the local neighbourhood, Armando Endaya, told AFP.
Edgar Halog, a 44-year-old driver of one of Manila's iconic "jeepney" buses, was sheltering with his wife and seven children.
"We do not have any money, we do not know what to do. We don't have any other relatives. We are waiting for food rations," Halog told AFP.
In a wealthier part of Manila that was also swamped by the floods, residents raced against looters to retrieve televisions and other valuables, with hardly any sign of a police presence.
"We hope to recover something from our home, if there is anything left to recover," said resident Jun de Guzman, 48, as he and three relatives carrying brooms waded in the knee-deep muck covering what was left of Provident Village.
Health authorities also warned of disease outbreaks and appealed to the public for donations of medicine, clean water and food, as well as for medics to volunteer their services.
Infections including swine flu, diarrhoea and the bacterial disease leptospirosis were at the top of the government's list of concerns, Melissa Guerrero, chief aide to the health secretary, told AFP.
Defence Minister Teodoro said that apart from relief goods, funding and medicine, the Philippines may also ask for international rescue teams.
A small number of US forces, stationed in the Philippines to train local forces in combating terrorists, have helped in rescue efforts over the past two days.
After ripping across the Philippines, tropical storm Ketsana was upgraded to a full typhoon and was bearing down on central Vietnam, where officials expected it to make landfall late Tuesday.