Grim task of burying dead starts on hillside outside Tacloban
A city devastated by last week's typhoon buried some of its dead in a mass grave in a hillside cemetery yesterday, a sombre reminder of the tragedy that has left the Philippines with the monumental task of providing for about 11.5 million affected people.
Most of the casualties occurred in Leyte province, its capital Tacloban, and Samar island. Many bodies are still lying along the roads in the city and others are buried under debris.
Outside Tacloban City Hall, dozens of bodies in bags were lined up yesterday, waiting to be trucked to the cemetery just outside the city for burial. The stench of death filled the air.
In the first such operation, 30 bodies in leaking black bags were lowered into graves without any prayers being said.
"I hope this is the last time I see something like this," said Mayor Alfred Romualdez. "When I look at this it just reminds me of what has happened from the day the storm hit until today. There are still so many cadavers in so many areas. It's scary."
Romualdez said retrieval teams were struggling to cope.
"There would be a request from one community to collect five or 10 bodies and when we get there, there are 40," Romualdez said, claiming that aid agencies' response to the increasingly desperate crisis had been too slow.
"Let's get the bodies out of the streets. They create an atmosphere of fear and depression."
Romualdez said the bodies lying on the grass outside city hall were waiting for the military to transport them to two burial sites - one for the identified and one for those whose names are not known.
Officials said efforts had been made to identify the bodies so families have a chance of finding out what happened to their loved ones in the days and weeks to come.
Valerie Amos, the UN humanitarian chief who toured Tacloban on Wednesday, said about 11.5 million people had been affected by the typhoon, which included people who lost their loved ones, were injured, or who suffered damage to their homes, business or livelihoods.
"The situation is dismal ... tens of thousands of people are living in the open ... exposed to rain and wind," she said in Manila yesterday.
Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse