Philippine Typhoon death toll may reach 1,500

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Manila (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) - The death toll from Typhoon "Pablo" will likely hit 1,500, making it the second deadliest since the Philippines began keeping records, Benito Ramos, head of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC), said on Saturday.

Ramos said that so far, the council had counted 1,067 dead with more than 800 still missing nearly three weeks after the typhoon, internationally named "Bopha," struck with winds up to 200 kilometers per hour, devastating communities and farmlands.

"It (the death toll) will go higher. But let us not assume the missing are already dead," he told Agence France-Presse, estimating fatalities at "about 1,500" but adding that the search for the missing continued.

The toll from Pablo is expected to exceed the 1,268 confirmed dead from Tropical Storm "Sendong" (Washi) a year ago. If it reaches 1,500, it would make it the second deadliest storm to hit the Philippines since 1947, when the Philippines began keeping records a year after independence.

Tropical Storm "Uring" (Thelma), which killed at least 5,101 in 1991, remains the deadliest on record, the government statistics bureau said. Typhoon "Nitang" (Ike), which claimed 1,363 lives in 1984, is listed as second.

Thousands of people remain homeless after Pablo brought flash floods that wiped out whole towns.

However, Ramos expressed confidence there would be no rise in health problems as the government had brought enough food and medicine to care for those affected.

"It will be contained. The government presence is felt by the people already," he said.

In the hard-hit town of New Bataan in Compostela Valley, a forensics team from the National Bureau of Investigation was working double time so that 351 bodies could be identified and buried, according to Marlon Esperanza, the municipal information officer.

Of the unidentified bodies, 111 are in coffins while 240 others are in body bags in the damaged public cemetery, where the NBI examination was being conducted.

Esperanza said relatives wanted to bury the unidentified corpses, but the task of digging a common grave was being hampered by rain, which also was making search operations difficult.

"People are still searching for family members and friends," Esperanza said.

The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and the Claretian Pastoral Care of the sick have deployed volunteers to conduct stress debriefing to the families of typhoon victims in New Bataan.

"Many of the survivors have lost their livelihood and family members. Through the sessions, we hope to ease the tension, anger and other negative emotions brought by Typhoon Pablo," said Fr. Arnold M. Abelardo, head of the 13-member Claretian volunteers.

The DSWD has deployed seven teams of social workers to conduct stress debriefing in the affected provinces.

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