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Philippine floods: President declares national calamity

image captionSome villages have been entirely washed away by the flash flooding

Philippines President Benigno Aquino has declared a national calamity after a typhoon killed nearly 1,000 people.

Typhoon Washi hit southern Mindanao island and surrounding areas at the weekend.

Visiting the area, Mr Aquino reassured survivors the government would be there to help but reportedly acknowledged mistakes might have been made.

Some authorities have begun mass burials, but they are opposed by some relatives of the dead.

Disaster agencies are attempting to provide food, water, medicine and body bags, but damaged roads are hampering efforts to reach survivors in remote villages.

Mr Aquino was flown over the coastal region to see the scale of the destruction, before meeting survivors and local officials.

After widespread criticism that the authorities were caught unprepared, he promised a full review of disaster plans, to ensure such devastation could not happen again.

"First priority is to relocate to areas that no longer pose a danger to them," he told a meeting in Cagayan de Oro, where nearly 600 people lost their lives as flash floods hit early on Saturday.

A spokesman for the president, Ricky Carandang, said declaring a national calamity would enable the government to direct more funds to the relief effort, Reuters reports.

Disease fears

The official death toll now stands at 957, and the BBC's Kate McGeown in the region says the authorities now face a massive task as more bodies are discovered.

On Tuesday morning, for example, 40 bodies were found in the river close to her hotel - and such bodies are being taken straight to dump sites as there is no room at the mortuaries.

media captionThe BBC's Kate McGowan says that "bodies are piling up all over the place"

Authorities including in the town of Iligan on Mindanao have begun burying people in large concrete tombs, and earlier Teresita Badiang, an engineer at the mayor's office, said the burials would be "dignified".

But many relatives of the dead are opposed to large-scale burials without identifying the dead first, our correspondent says.

About 40,000 people on Mindanao, many of whom were already desperately poor, are now living in evacuation centres after losing their homes and possessions.

John Salva, a spokesman for British aid charity World Vision, said the centres had become severely overcrowded, with signs of disease beginning to appear.

"It's really a struggle to manage those evacuation centres, there's a shortage of water and a shortage of food," he said.

The flash floods struck in the early hours of Saturday as a passing tropical storm coincided with high tides.

Questions emerge

As rivers burst their banks, many were trapped in their homes as they slept, while in other areas entire villages are reported to have been swept away.

Although the Philippines is struck by several typhoons and tropical storms every year, the south of the country usually escapes the worst damage.

Our correspondent says although there are detailed disaster-preparedness plans in other parts of the Philippines, there is a sense that this was lacking in the region where the storms hit.

In a speech to a packed evacuation centre in Cagayan de Oro, President Aquino vowed the government would fix damaged roads and water systems, AFP news agency reports.

But he acknowledged that many victims should not have been in high-vulnerability zones in the first place.

"Because we know the topography, we know where the areas prone to flooding are. So why are people still living in these areas?" Mr Aquino reportedly asked.

Reuters news agency quoted the state-run Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) as saying it had warned authorities in the affected areas last year about the need to relocate families living along riverbanks.

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