PHILIPPINES: 375,000 displaced by fierce floods

MANILA, 3 August 2009 (IRIN) – At least eight people have drowned and more than 375,000 been affected by massive flooding after heavy rains continued on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao, according to disaster relief officials on 3 August.

Many are among the tens of thousands already displaced by heavy fighting between government forces and the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in Maguindanao Province now living in government evacuation centres.

Regional emergency relief groups have also been told to be on alert for possible outbreaks of waterborne diseases. Some 30 towns and one city in five provinces have been submerged since last week, the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC) in
Manila said.
Heavy flooding began on 25 July, affecting some 56 villages on Mindanao Island.
But as rains continued, major waterways also flooded their banks, and within days more and more areas, especially in low-lying catch basins in central Mindanao, were also inundated, the agency said.
Officials said hardest hit was the coastal province of Sarangani, where most of the deaths were recorded.
Provincial welfare officer Hermelo Latoja said flash floods swept away wooden homes along the banks in the town of Malapatan, while almost 80 percent of all 19 villages in the area of Kiamba were submerged.
“I want to ensure the safety of residents in affected villages and I want to make sure they will be given enough food and supplies in evacuation centres,” said Sarangani governor Migs Dominguez, adding that health officials were also rushing medicine to evacuation centres “to make sure there will be no disease outbreaks”.
Troops meanwhile joined police and provincial rescue units to help thousands marooned inside their homes by waist-deep water in many areas of Maguindanao, where 31 villages remain submerged.
Medical health stations have been put up in areas near Cotabato city.
Office of Civil Defence (OCD) chief Glenn Rabonza said aerial surveys were being conducted across the flooded areas in Maguindanao and Cotabato city. He told IRIN a task force may carry out “forced
evacuations by troops if necessary”. He said more than 1,200 families had been evacuated from their homes, while helicopters were continuing to search for those in need.
Damage has been extensive – in South Cotabato and Cotabato provinces alone, more than 2,700ha of rice, vegetables and fruit trees have been washed away, while over 100 houses have been destroyed. Schools, dikes and roads have also been eroded, officials said.
Major Randolph Cabangbang, a regional military spokesman in Mindanao, said troops had been ordered to be ready for quick mobilisation throughout the region.
“Rapid deployment forces are already out there helping out,” Cabangbang told IRIN. He said many bridges and roads remained inaccessible due to the flood waters, forcing them to use rubber boats to access some villages.
“We are continuing to monitor the weather,” he said, adding that rains had continued in some areas.
Mindanao has been the scene of heavy fighting between government forces and the 12,000-strong MILF over the past year following the collapse of a peace deal last August, resulting in thousands of people being displaced.
The MILF have been fighting for an independent Islamic state on the island for decades.

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