Hundreds of thousands of survivors of a deadly Philippines typhoon crammed into overcrowded shelters yesterday, braving the stench of corpses as the government vowed action to prevent storm disasters.
Typhoon Bopha, which smashed into the nation's south on Tuesday leaving at least 540 people dead and 383 missing, was the deadliest natural disaster this year in a country that is regularly hit with earthquakes, floods and volcanic eruptions.
President Benigno Aquino flew into the southern island of Mindanao, which bore the brunt of Tuesday's storm, to meet with bruised and grieving survivors who must now rebuild their lives.
"We want to find out why this tragedy happened and how to keep these tragedies from happening again," he told dazed crowds after arriving by helicopter in the town of New Bataan, which was mostly obliterated by the storm.
As the president spoke, a yellow excavator tore into the rubble of a row of flattened houses a short distance away, allowing rescue workers to pull out the bodies of two more victims.
Among the 306,000 left homeless were 2,000 people huddled in a basketball gym in New Bataan, one of only a few buildings left standing in the town.
With the stench of decomposing corpses from the parking lot outside, farmer's wife Violy Saging, 38, tried to focus on the needs of her surviving children.
"[The typhoon] snatched our lives away. There is nothing left. We are hoping our relatives or friends will take us in," she said.
Her eldest son's body had beenfound wrapped around a coconut tree that he had climbed in a vain effort to flee the deluge. Her three younger children survived.
The concrete floor of the crowded gym was caked with mud, and part of its roof had been blown away by the typhoon, exposing the newly homeless to heavy rain that began pouring again shortly after Aquino left.
The government has appealed for international aid for food, tents, water purification systems and medicine.
Interior Secretary Mar Roxas said the government is investigating why so many people were killed even when advance typhoon warnings were given.
"They should not have built houses there," Roxas said, noting that many of the mining areas, which are a magnet for the nation's poor, had been declared unsafe for habitation due to frequent deadly landslides.
But amid the despair there were also some poignant 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 said, his tears welling up. "We may no longer have a house, or any possessions, but we still have each other."