NEW BATAAN, Philippines, Dec 7 (Reuters) - Residents in the
southern Philippines began to bury their dead on Friday even as
rescue workers continued scouring remote areas for possible
survivors of Typhoon Bopha, the country's strongest storm this
year, which killed 418 people and left nearly as many missing.
Officials in Compostela Valley, one of the worst hit
provinces on the resource-rich island of Mindanao, were
considering mass graves for unclaimed bodies killed by the
typhoon which hit two days ago.
Bopha cut a swathe of destruction in the valley, flooding
farming and mining towns and burying many people in mudslides.
"We are thinking of burying the unclaimed bodies on health
concerns," Major General Ariel Bernardo, an army division
commander in the southern Philippines, told Reuters. "The foul
smell is becoming strong."
Bernardo said rescue and retrieval work was hampered by lack
of equipment. "Some of the dead are buried in knee deep mud and
we only have our hands and shovels," he said.
Arturo Uy, governor of Compostela Valley, said the province
was considering digging mass graves if most of the dead are not
claimed in two to three days. He estimates 212 died in his
province while nearly 400 were missing.
"Probably half of the missing could be dead by now," he told
The official death toll stands at 418, with 383 missing and
hundreds injured, the national disaster agency said in its
latest tally. But the toll is expected to rise, with local
government officials quoting higher numbers of missing.
A Reuters photographer saw at least 10 bodies under mud and
piles of logs and debris and only a few hundreds of metres from
a crowded makeshift grandstand in New Bataan town in Compostela
Valley, where President Benigno Aquino was due to give out
relief goods later on Friday.
"Up to now, we are not discussing stopping (the search),"
Uy told reporters. "There are still survivors in barangays
(villages) which we couldn't reach immediately."
Stephen Antig, executive director of Pilipino Banana Growers
and Exporters Association, estimates about 7 billion pesos ($171
million) worth of bananas mostly for export in Compostela Valley
and Davao del Norte were destroyed by the typhoon.
The area, where plantations owned by Dole Food Company Inc
and Del Monte Pacific Ltd are located,
accounts for almost a fifth of the country's total banana
Bopha has now weakened and is slowly moving north-northwest
towards the South China Sea, with central winds of up to 110 kph
(68 mph) and gusts of up to 140 kph (87 mph).
About 20 typhoons hit the Philippines every year, often
causing death and destruction. Almost exactly a year ago,
Typhoon Washi killed 1,500 people in Mindanao, but most storms
make landfall further north.
($1 = 40.965 Philippine pesos)
(Additional reporting by Rosemarie Francisco, Manny Mogato and
Erik dela Cruz; Editing by Michael Perry)