New Bataan, Philippines -
Bruised and grieving survivors of a Philippine typhoon that killed nearly 500 people sought to pick up the pieces Friday in crowded camps housing some of the 300,000 made homeless in the disaster.
About 2,000 people were huddled in a basketball gym in the southern town of New Bataan, one of only a few buildings left standing after Typhoon Bopha ravaged the area, which is home to banana and gold mining industries.
With the overpowering stench of rotting corpses from the parking lot outside, farmer's wife Violy Saging, 38, tried to focus on the needs of her surviving children.
“It (the typhoon) snatched our life away. There is nothing left, but we are hoping our relatives or friends will take us in,” she told AFP.
The body of her eldest son Rodger, 15, was found wrapped around a coconut tree that he had climbed to flee the flash floods. Her three-year-old son, the youngest of three surviving children, has a high fever.
The concrete floor of the basketball court is streaked with mud. Part of the gym's roof was blown away by the cyclone, exposing the dazed survivors to both intermittent rain and the heat of the tropical sun.
Dry space along the few benches around the court is at a premium, and Saging's family shares a small area with an elderly couple who lost six children.
The Philippines' civil defence office said more than 306,000 people had been left homeless by Bopha, the deadliest natural disaster this year for a country that is also hit regularly with quakes, floods and volcanic eruptions.
The figure had risen by 56,000 from Thursday's total, and Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman said the government had appealed for immediate international aid for food, tents, water-purification systems and medicines.
“People have no houses to go home to, so they are going to the evacuation centres for shelter and relief goods,” Soliman told AFP in Manila as she prepared to fly to the disaster zone with President Benigno Aquino.
Those lucky enough to be inside the New Bataan gym receive rice, instant noodles, and tinned meat.
But Soliman said they faced being stuck there for months as the government finds flood- and landslide-free places to build new shelters.
Outside the gym, Medarda Opiso, 47, joined crowds with handkerchiefs pressed to their noses as they gingerly peeled away death shrouds covering faces and bloated bodies laid out on the pavement.
Soldiers have pulled scores of dead from under the rubble and body bags are running low. But many more are still missing, including Opiso's son's wife and daughter.
“My son is in despair. He is not talking to anyone. I am afraid he will lose it,” Opiso said.
The son, farmer Gomer Opiso, had been tending to his crops when the wall of water and debris obliterated nearly the entire town of 48,000 people.
But amid the despair there were also some bitter-sweet reunions.
Lucrecio Panamogan, 74, found his grown children huddled together with their families in a devastated school yard two days after the storm.
“I thought I had lost them,” he told AFP, his tears welling up.
“We may no longer have a house, or any possessions, but we still have each other.” - Sapa-AFP