Philippines starts to bury dead as typhoon toll cross 500

A rescue worker carries an elderly resident across a surging river in New Bataan, Compostela Valley province on December 6, 2012, two days after Typhoon Bopha hit the province. A quarter million people were homeless and 418 confirmed dead after the Philippines' worst typhoon this year. -- PHOTO: AFP 

NEW BATAAN, Philippines (REUTERS, AP) - Rescuers were digging through mud and debris Friday to retrieve more bodies strewn
across a farming valley in the southern Philippines even as residents began to bury their dead after a powerful typhoon devastated the archipelago over the last two days.

On Friday, rescue workers continued scouring remote areas for possible survivors of Typhoon Bopha, the country's strongest storm this year, which killed more than 500 people and left nearly as many missing.  More than 310,000 people have lost their homes and are crowded inside evacuation centers or staying with their relatives, relying on food and emergency supplies being rushed in by government agencies and aid groups.
 “I want to know how this tragedy happened and how to prevent a repeat,” President Benigno Aquino III said during a visit to New Bataan town, the ground zero of the disaster, where ferocious winds and rains lashed the area. Officials have confirmed 252 dead in Compostela Valley, including New Bataan, and 216 in nearby Davao Oriental province. Nearly 40 others died elsewhere and more
than 400 are still missing, about two-thirds in New Bataan alone.
Mr  Aquino told New Bataan residents gathered in the middle of toppled coconut trees and roofless houses that he was bent on seeking answers in order to improve their conditions and minimize casualties when natural disasters occur. Fatal storms and typhoons blowing from the Pacific are common in the Philippines, but most of them hit northern and central areas, and southern Mindanao Island is usually spared.
“We are going to look at what really happened. There are allegations of illegal mining, there are allegations of the force of nature,” said Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, who traveled with Mr Aquino. “We will find out why there are homes in these geohazard locations.” Mr Roxas said rescue dogs will be brought to help search for survivors, although only bodies were found on Friday.

Officials in Compostela Valley, one of the worst hit provinces on the resource-rich island of Mindanao, were considering mass graves for unclaimed bodies killed by the typhoon which hit two days ago. Bopha cut a swathe of destruction in the valley, flooding farming and mining towns and burying many people in mudslides.

"We are thinking of burying the unclaimed bodies on health concerns," Major General Ariel Bernardo, an army division commander in the southern Philippines, said. "The foul smell is becoming strong." He said rescue and retrieval work was hampered by lack of equipment. "Some of the dead are buried in knee deep mud and we only have our hands and shovels," he said.