Victims beg for food after Philippine typhoon

Desperate families begged for food Sunday, days after a typhoon brought death and destruction to parts of a southern Philippine island, as the storm returned to the north of the country.

Northern areas escaped with heavy rain after the storm weakened. But scenes of hardship were everywhere in southern areas that last week felt the full fury of the strongest typhoon to hit the country this year.

Officials said 548 people are confirmed dead, most of them in the southern island of Mindanao.

Civil defence chief Benito Ramos said the number of missing had shot up to 827 from previous figures of 500 unaccounted for, after reports of more missing fishermen came in.

In the Mindanao mountain town of New Bataan, which took the brunt of Typhoon Bopha, families lined the roads holding signs begging for food.

"Have mercy on us, please donate," read one sign held by a group of ragged children.

"We need food," read another sign displayed by a group standing amid ruined banana plantations.

Farmer's wife Madeline Blanco, 36, said her family was trying to make do while sheltering in a tent on a basketball court.

"We were given rations but it was not enough. Just rice, bread and noodles. It is not enough for me and my four children," she told AFP.

"All we can do is wait for donations. There are cars passing by and sometimes drivers give us something," she said.

Another farmer's wife, Emma Toledo, 59, complained that the relief supplies from the national government had yet to arrive.

"We have not been given anything yet. Only the local government and the village officials gave us something, just some rice, noodles and dried fish," said the mother of three.

Drivers of private vehicles also handed out donations but the lack of coordination led to more confusion.

When a truck from a local power company arrived to distribute relief supplies, it was mobbed by hungry villagers and many children were almost trampled in the chaos.

"I've been here for a long time. I am hungry and my children need food," one angry woman yelled as she pushed her way to the front.

Regional civil defence operations officer Antonio Cloma said many relief agencies, both government and non-government, were entering the area with supplies for typhoon victims.

"The government is doing its best to support the requirements for these victims," he insisted.

The local head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, David Carden said there was a pressing need for food, shelter and other basic items, but also for generators.

"People are scared at night and whenever it rains," in the darkness, he said.

However he conceded that there were "huge logistical challenges" in bringing in the aid.

"Bridges have fallen, roads have been blocked by fallen trees," he told AFP.

Elsewhere, the main church of New Bataan finally reopened after roads leading to it were cleared but only a few of the faithful came to the first mass since the storm as many were too busy attending to their dead and missing.

"The others are too busy looking for their missing and attending to their dead," said church lay worker Florena Jimenez, 58,

The church, dedicated to Saint Anthony de Padua, credited with miracles in finding missing people, will also be holding special prayers for the many who died without receiving last rites, she told AFP.

In the northern Philippines, the typhoon had weakened to a tropical storm and only brought a few downpours with no reports of any floods. The government weather station said it would dissipate by Monday.

Typhoon Bopha had been headed out to the South China Sea when it made a U-turn towards the north this weekend, initially raising fears of another disaster.

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