Survivors of a typhoon that ravaged the southern Philippines will bypass Christmas this year as they hole up in evacuation centres and continue to bury their dead, officials said on Sunday.
Instead of presents and carols, thousands of people on the island of Mindanao will be more concerned with food, water and shelter, civil defence chief Benito Ramos said.
Instead of a traditional Christmas dinner, the government will distribute special packs of spaghetti, corned beef and fruit salad.
“There will no celebrations. It is just too sad. It will just be a regular day. We do not call it Christmas,” he said as relief workers rushed supplies to towns flattened by Typhoon Bopha, which slammed into the island on December 4.
So far 1,067 people have been confirmed dead, with more than 800 missing, according to the government.
Ramos said that – unlike in the rest of the majority-Catholic Philippines – there would be no Christmas parties in the storm hit towns, just the burials of bodies.
Many of the dead are in an advanced state of decomposition after failing to be identified.
Ramos denied reports that bodies had been dumped in a mass grave on Sunday.
“There was a semblance of a decent burial after the 17 bodies were identified,” he said.
The burial was helped by the donation of 500 coffins from a province north of Manila, he added.
Ramos’s office said there were still 13,940 people living in evacuation centres almost three weeks after the storm. More than 959,000 others have returned to the ruins of their homes or are staying with relatives.
Dr Martin Pareno, nutrition co-ordinator for Action Against Hunger International, said in a recent visit to the affected area he had seen people desperate for help.
“It’s a heartrending thing. There is no sign of Christmas in the whole area,” he said.
“The No 1 problem is shelter, clearing debris, sanitation. There is no electricity or water service. They will have to provide for that before any social activities.”