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Durian's Aftermath: Disease Threatens Homeless Philippine Families
Rehabilitation work has been excruciatingly slow, and while road networks are already open, huge delivery trucks containing relief aid have not been able to fully penetrate far-flung areas. More than a week after the incident, bodies are still being dug from the rubble and quickly buried in mass graves not far from excavation sites. Photo courtesy AFP
Rehabilitation work has been excruciatingly slow, and while road networks are already open, huge delivery trucks containing relief aid have not been able to fully penetrate far-flung areas. More than a week after the incident, bodies are still being dug from the rubble and quickly buried in mass graves not far from excavation sites. Photo courtesy AFP
by Jason Gutierrez
Guinobatan (AFP) Dec 08, 2006
Medical aid was rushed to squalid Philippine evacuation sites Friday amid dire warnings that poor sanitation could trigger an outbreak of disease among hundreds of mudslide survivors. Babies and children sleep on the damp wooden floors of the elementary school turned into a temporary shelter for nearly 100 families in the township of Guinobatan in the eastern Bicol region, where entire villages were swept away by volcanic debris last week.

Yet these unfortunates are relatively lucky. When supertyphoon Durian hit last week, it created avalanches of volcanic mud that left more than 1,300 people dead or missing.

Sixteen-year-old mother Jennifer Pamplona is struggling to breastfeed her two-week-old baby, Sofia Jane, swaddled in a soiled canvass doubling as a diaper.

"She is not eating. She has been crying and has been feverish," Pamplona said, as husband, Radji, 20, sat dazed in a corner. "She was a week old when the mudslide struck and our house was instantly gone."

Nearby, children walk in their bare feet, their faces full of grime as they await daily rations of boiled noodles and fish.

An elderly man who is visibly sick sits in one corner, just yards away from another mother and her children huddled over a piece of bread.

"Water is a huge problem, the toilets are filled to capacity and we don't have portable ones. There are so many children that are sickly now, and we can't continue to live like this," said Jun Espinas, 35, an engineer.

"The government must now start looking for relocation sites because we can't return to our village. It is gone," he said.

"We are desperate for medicines and infant formula," he said.

A disease surveillance team from the Department of Health was dispatched here to assess the situation and try to prevent an outbreak that could be fatal in these crowded communities.

They administered anti-measles and polio vaccines to children as well as gave them boosters to counter the common cold.

"There have been rising incidences of acute respiratory infections and loose bowel movements," said team leader Nancy Pastrana.

"The condition here is congested, this is a common breeding ground for diseases," she said, as she struggled to inject a vaccine into a crying three-year-old girl.

The elementary school was partially damaged when tonnes of volcanic debris cascaded down the slopes of Mayon volcano at the height of the typhoon last week, burying entire villages and leaving hundreds dead and missing.

Rehabilitation work has been excruciatingly slow, and while road networks are already open, huge delivery trucks containing relief aid have not been able to fully penetrate far-flung areas.

More than a week after the incident, bodies are still being dug from the rubble and quickly buried in mass graves not far from excavation sites.

Forensic experts have been exhuming bodies elsewhere to properly tag and identify them, while health officials have rushed to teach villagers proper ways of "managing the dead".

The World Health Organization issued an advisory saying mass burials were not necessary at disaster sites because the corpses were unlikely to become the sources of disease outbreaks.

However many communities resorted to the burials anyway because the stench of the bodies has become too unbearable.

Electrical, communications and water services in most stricken areas still have not been restored. People have resorted to using deep wells and springs for potable water.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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