Philippine typhoon toll 1,249; rebels urge punishment

MANILA Mon Dec 26, 2011 2:20pm IST

A man gathers wood amidst logs and debris washed ashore after Typhoon Washi hit a village in Iligan city, southern Philippines December 20, 2011. REUTERS/Erik De Castro

A man gathers wood amidst logs and debris washed ashore after Typhoon Washi hit a village in Iligan city, southern Philippines December 20, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Erik De Castro

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MANILA (Reuters) - The death toll in the Philippines from one of the country's worst natural disaster in two decades has risen to 1,249 with about 1,100 missing, disaster officials said on Monday, as communist rebels said people responsible should be punished.

Typhoon Washi sent torrents of water, mud and logs cascading through riverside and coastal villages on Mindanao island in mid-December, destroying more than 10,000 houses and displacing more than 300,000 people, who are mostly in emergency shelters.

Benito Ramos, head of the national disaster agency, said fishermen from as far as the central island of Bohol were helping recover bodies that had been washed hundreds of miles away.

"As long as there are bodies out there in the sea we will continue with the search and retrieval operations, even if it goes beyond the New Year," Ramos said in a radio interview.

Authorities had expanded the search area to a radius of 300 km (200 miles), he said.

President Benigno Aquino, who inspected the disaster zone last week, has ordered an investigation, asking why officials had allow people to build houses in danger zones and had not stopped illegal logging.

The regional head of forestry and mining had resigned and an official supervising Lanao del Sur province had been removed, Radio DzMM reported. Most of the logs that crashed into houses were washed down from Lanao del Sur province.

On Monday, the communist party ordered its guerrillas to raise funds and help in relief efforts, and, as it marked its 43rd anniversary, it threatened its own punishment for those responsible for the disaster.

Active in 69 of 80 provinces across the country, the 5,000-member rebel forcevowed to "make those responsible for the natural disaster and the ensuing massive loss of lives to answer to the people".

The military said the rebels were using the disaster as a pretence to step up extortion of mining, plantation, logging and construction companies.

The government and the Maoist rebels have declared unilateral truces during the Christmas and New Year holiday.

Only about 30 percent of victims found under tonnes of mud and debris and in the sea had been identified, because most people have no dental records and the government has no DNA database.

The bodies of victims have been identified have been handed over to relatives but the rest are being kept in concrete vaults.

(Reporting By Manny Mogato; Editing by John Mair and Robert Birsel)

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