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Disease fears as Philippines flood toll tops 1,000
by Staff Writers
Cagayan De Oro, Philippines (AFP) Dec 21, 2011

Survivors of devastating Philippines flash floods face a growing threat of disease including cholera and typhoid, officials warned Wednesday as the death toll rose above a thousand.

Some 44,000 people who fled as huge torrents swept away shanty towns in the nation's south are packed in evacuation camps without proper sanitation, and officials fear the sites are potential breeding grounds for epidemics.

Tropical storm Washi struck the southern island of Mindanao over the weekend, bringing heavy rains, flash floods and overflowing rivers that swept whole coastal villages away.

Civil defence chief Benito Ramos put the death toll at 1,010 and warned it could climb further as victims swept out to sea began washing ashore, with some corpses turning up nearly a hundred kilometres (62 miles) away.

"They are washing up on the beaches," he told AFP. "I expect that (the toll) will go up because there are still many missing," he said.

Ramos said he expects the toll to reach around 1,100 but warned that many of the deceased who were swept to sea would never be found.

"In our experience, after three days, (a body) will emerge but after another three to five days, it will submerge again," he told AFP.

His office put the number of missing at 46.

Eighteen unclaimed corpses were buried in individual tombs in Iligan on Wednesday, after 38 were interred a day earlier, city official Teresita Herrera told AFP.

Officials said Wednesday that hundreds of decaying bodies and their overpowering stench had to be dealt with but attention should now focus on protecting the living, particularly in the shelters.

Assistant Health Secretary Eric Tayag warned the crowded conditions could lead to outbreaks of leptospirosis, diarrhoea, cholera, hepatitis A, typhoid fever, and dysentery, with children and pregnant women the most vulnerable.

Health Undersecretary Ted Herbosa said the government was bracing for possible outbreaks next week.

"There were no reported cases of illnesses yet but we are in constant monitoring of incident of diarrhoea and respiratory illness which we expect to emerge next week," he told reporters.

The areas hardest-hit by the storm were the port cities of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan, where crowded slums built on sandbars near the mouths of major rivers were washed away in the dead of night.

Conditions remain chaotic at the evacuation centres, mainly schools and gymnasiums, and with no running water fire trucks were being used to deliver supplies.

"The problem is we only have one or two toilets per school, and they have to cater to 3,000 or 4,000 users," Iligan health officer Levy Villarin told AFP.

Dante Pajo, a member of the Cagayan de Oro city council, said there was not enough food or water for the city's 26,000-plus evacuees.

At a Cagayan de Oro gymnasium, 52-year-old grandmother Adela Campaner lined up at mid-morning for bowls of porridge -- the first meal of the day for herself and her two grandchildren.

"I am ashamed that I have to beg for food," she said, vowing to return to their devastated riverside shanty town as soon as possible and resume her roadside restaurant business.

Wearing donated, mismatched T-shirt and pants, she said she had not taken a bath for three days and was forced to retreat from the school's toilet earlier in the day due to the repulsive smell.

The gym was packed beyond capacity with people sleeping on mats and sheets of cardboard that filled every available space.

Some 276,000 people are receiving emergency assistance, including many who have shunned the evacuation centres and are sheltering with relatives -- unable to return home as the government has forbidden them from returning to flood-prone areas.

"They have no houses, nothing to go home to. The clothes on their backs are all they have," Ramos said.

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Thai army targets New Year protests
Bangkok (UPI) Dec 21, 2011 - Thailand's army will help local police during the New Year period in case of threats to public order, especially protests over the restrictive lese-majeste laws.

The move is designed to dampen plans by protesters to gather in public and cut off Internet campaigns demanding changes to the laws that prohibit insults to the Thai royal family.

The laws have been heavily criticized as a tool for the government, police and military to clamp down on political dissidents and foreigners.

A U.S. citizen, Joe Gordon, was sentenced earlier this month to be jailed for 2 1/2 for translating parts of a banned biography of the king and posting them online.

Thai army commander Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha said people shouldn't be calling on authorities to amend Section 112 of the Criminal Procedure Code, the lese-majeste law, a report in the Bangkok Post said.

"Personally, I feel we should not talk about this and I don't want it to go overboard," he said. "If people think Thai law is unjust or too harsh, they can go live abroad. I would like Thai people to stop confronting each other and creating conflict."

Prayuth also warned against discussing the possibility of bombings during the New Year holiday.

"Don't start talking about possible bombings and stir up unrest during the New Year because it could hurt tourism," Prayuth said before visiting the restive southern border provinces of Narathiwat, Pattani and Yala this week.

Military police will be deployed to support local Bangkok police in areas suspected of becoming protest gathering points, Defense Minister Gen. Yutthasak Sasiprapa said.

Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung also warned against amending the lese-majeste law and asked whether protesters "have jobs to go to."

He said Thailand has prospered because of the royal family of King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

"Because of His Majesty's compassion and graciousness in all areas, Thailand has gone from poverty to prosperity, from being an underdeveloped country to a developing country."

Chalerm also said he would lead a meeting for dealing with Web sites with lese-majeste content and block such sites.

He said he will talk with True Corp, an Internet service provider, while national police officials will meet the heads of other service telecoms companies, including TOT, CAT Telecom and 3BB.

The comments come after Gordon, a 55-year-old, Thai-born U.S. citizen, was sentenced in a Bangkok court under the lese-majeste law, even though he posted the offending content online while living in Colorado.

Gordon lived in the United States for about 30 years until May when he visited Thailand for arthritis treatment.

His five-year sentence was reduced because he pleaded guilty during his trial in October.

Last month a Thai court sentenced a 61-year-old man to 20 years in jail for sending several cellphone text messages allegedly offensive toward the queen.


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Philippines buries its dead as flood toll tops 1,000
Cagayan De Oro, Philippines (AFP) Dec 20, 2011
Philippine authorities on Tuesday began burying the dead from flash floods that have left more than 1,000 dead or missing, as President Benigno Aquino declared a national disaster. Aquino flew to Mindanao island to inspect the ports of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan - choked with drying mud, crumpled homes, and hundreds of decomposing corpses after being struck by tropical storm Washi on the wee ... read more

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