Red Cross responds to floods in southern Philippines

Published: 18 December 2011 12:02 CET

Hundreds of Philippine Red Cross volunteers are taking part in a huge rescue and relief operation on the island of Mindanao, where flash floods caused by Typhoon Washi have claimed more than 300 lives and left over 270 missing.

Typhoon Washi – known locally as Sendong – made landfall on the north coast of Mindanao on 17 December. Over the next 12 hours, prolonged and heavy rain caused many rivers to burst their banks and engulf surrounding areas. The major ports of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan were worst hit.

Gwen Pang, the secretary general of the Philippine Red Cross, said many had died when flood waters swept through their homes late in the night. “This thing happened so fast, it was overwhelming. It happened in the evening when people were sleeping,” she said.

According to Ms Pang, villages were struck with little warning and with almost no opportunity to prepare. An average of 20 major storms strike the Philippines each year, but most hit further north and typically affect the island of Luzon.

“People were saying they were really unprepared. They didn’t know it would hit them to this extent,” Ms Pang said. More than 400 volunteers have been working alongside with 50 staff from local Red Cross chapters to provide rescue and relief operations since the storm hit. Red Cross search and rescue teams have been working with authorities to find families lost in the floods, and volunteers have been cooking hot meals and providing first aid for the thousands of families that sought refuge in government run evacuation centres.

An emergency consignment of blankets, sleeping mats and water cans – enough for about 2,000 families – has been sent from Red Cross headquarters in Manila to the affected areas, with more likely to be sent in the coming days as new assessment information comes in.

Families will also receive food kits with two day’s worth of rice, sardines and noodles.