UN aid call as Philippines typhoon toll tops 600

The United Nations launched a $65 million global aid appeal Monday to help desperate survivors of a typhoon that killed more than 600 people and affected millions in the southern Philippines.

Victims of devastating Typhoon Bopha jostle for position as they beg for relief food being distributed by members of a private company in New Bataan in Compostela Valley province on December 9, 2012. The United Nations is set to launch a global appeal Monday for aid for millions of the typhoon victims.

Luiza Carvalho, country officer for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said the funds would initially help provide food, water and emergency shelter to 480,000 people in the worst-hit areas.

Carvalho spent the past few days visiting Mindanao island, where landslides and floods from Typhoon Bopha flattened entire communities last week, laying low the country's banana and mining industries.

"I was shocked by the destruction I saw," she told a news conference in Davao city on the edge of the disaster zone.

"Areas which have been completely devastated, with only a few damaged buildings still standing. Debris from houses, buildings, landslides and logs. Entire plantations wiped out."

She said the typhoon, the strongest to hit the region for more than 80 years, had left its many poor residents without the means to feed their families.

"This devastation cannot be erased overnight," she added.

Over the longer term, the UN aid programme will also help survivors to recover emotionally and rehabilitate the devastated farm sector, Carvalho said.

A third of the country's banana harvest was wiped out, leaving tens of thousands of plantation workers without an immediate source of income, according to industry officials.

The civil defence office in Manila said 647 corpses had been recovered.

A total of 780 people are still missing, including about 150 fishermen from General Santos, the country's tuna capital, who had put to sea before Bopha hit.

Civil defence chief Benito Ramos has said some of those listed as missing could be among more than 200 unidentified bodies, many of them bloated beyond recognition, that have not been claimed by relatives.

More than 400 corpses have been turned over to surviving relatives, and the government is looking at interring the rest in mass graves if nobody steps forward to claim them within 48 hours.

At least 5.4 million victims were affected by the typhoon, the civil defence office said.

The typhoon destroyed 81,000 houses, and more than 300,000 survivors face months sheltering in crowded government gyms and schools as officials look for safe places to build new homes.

Relief workers have reported looting of shops in at least one hard-hit town on Mindanao's east coast, while homeless people without space in government shelters have been reduced to begging on roadsides, AFP reporters saw.

A 5.8-magnitude earthquake that struck the typhoon-devastated region at dawn Monday showed the precarious situation survivors find themselves facing, although the quake was too deep to cause any damage.

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