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Philippine officials struggle to identify typhoon victims



Philippines, 16 Nov 2013: A week after one of the strongest typhoons ever tore through the Philippines, bodies still lie where they fell or were washed up, the defining motif of a tragedy that has killed thousands.

The stench of bloated and discolored human flesh decomposing under the tropical sun hangs everywhere in the central city of Tacloban, where wretched survivors and rescue workers cover their mouths to keep the cloying smell from their throats.

Hundreds have been collected, put into body bags and trucked off to wrecked municipal buildings to await burial in mass graves, a process that city authorities began on Thursday.

Officials and aid volunteers say those bodies that have been recovered are just the beginning, a small fraction of those that could be seen when the storm surge subsided. Many more, they say, lie under the mountains of debris.

"Leaving them [the bodies] just decaying on the roadside, uncollected, is next to unforgivable," local Catholic priest Amadeo Alvero said.

Health Secretary Enrique Ona insisted the bodies did not pose a serious risk. Experts point out that a corpse can only carry a disease such as cholera if the disease was present before the person died.

"We have to assure our countrymen that... there will not be an epidemic," he said. "The one thing we want is to identify them so we can give some peace to their relatives."

"On the scene, our doctors begin the documentation," said Chief Superintendent Liza Sabong, head of the national police crime laboratory and part of the contingent sent to Tacloban.

Only 13 of the 182 bodies collected by Sabong's group have been picked up by their relatives, she said. The rest have been left behind.

Tacloban on Thursday began mass burials of some of those bodies that had been bagged and laid out by the shattered city hall.

The plan, said mayor Alfred Romualdez, was that all those whose name and family were known would be placed into one huge pit. The unidentified rest would go into a separate mass grave.

Romualdez, who has been an outspoken critic of the rescue effort, said he believes three-quarters of all bodies collected had still not been claimed by family. In these circumstances, mass burials were the only option.
Source: AFP




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