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Relief work kicks into higher gear


Floodwaters have receded, but aid workers see health threats.

THE deadly floodwaters that laid waste to Cambodia when Typhoon Ketsana struck finally began to recede on Monday, leaving behind them a country slick with mud and desperately battling to prevent the spread of disease.

Initial estimates of the damage were still being revised upwards Monday night, with Oxfam warning that more than 60,000 people were affected by the killer storm when it swept through the Kingdom last week.

“We can’t underestimate the situation”, said Francis Perez, country head of Oxfam International in Cambodia. “We are still in an emergency situation. Public-health concerns and people’s livelihoods are our priorities.”

The official death toll climbed to 17 – including an expectant mother – on Monday as emergency workers struggled to penetrate the most remote provinces, where it is feared more bodies may yet be discovered. According to the National Committee for Disaster Management, nine died in Kampong Thom, three in Siem Reap, three in Ratanakkiri and two in Kampong Chhnang. Most fatalities were caused by collapsing homes and flash floods, officials said.

In Preah Sihanouk province, acting provincial police chief Yin Bunnath reported that a boat containing five fishermen capsized during the tempest. The sole survivor was receiving medical treatment in Vietnam on Monday, where three bodies were recovered over the weekend. The fifth man was still missing last night, but no further details were available.

Keo Vy, communication officer at the National Centre for Disaster Management, said several provinces had not yet reported the number of people killed by the storm. “We received an unofficial report that four died in Preah Sihanouk province, but it is not officially confirmed yet,” he said. In Siem Reap, the body of a 17-year-old boy who drowned while swimming in the swollen river had still not been found.

Although the floodwaters had all but disappeared, efforts to get emergency food and medical supplies to the four worst-hit provinces – Stung Treng, Kratie and Preah Vihear – had stalled. Rivers of mud have replaced the raging torrents, making remote roads and bridges all but impassable.

“Two days ago, these places could be accessed by boats on water,” said Francis Perez. “Now that the water has receded, it has become more muddy, so boats are useless and vehicles are having a tough time as well.” The greatest remaining challenge for relief workers, he said, is getting aid to remote forest settlements.

Sharon Wilkinson, country director of CARE Cambodia, said: “Getting detailed information about numbers of families affected is proving difficult because, in many places in Ratanakkiri, the roads are impassible.”

Oxfam, Cambodian Red Cross, Plan International, Caritas and Action Aid are coordinating efforts to distribute food, plastic sheets, mosquito nets, water filters and water containers to the most affected communities. According to a report released by Oxfam on Monday, 1,519 homes were destroyed during the storm, along with 55 public buildings, 40km of rural roads and 160 irrigation systems.

In more urban areas, life was slowly returning to normal. In Siem Reap, parts of which were left under more than a metre of water over the weekend, many tourism businesses resumed full operations. Most major hotels reopened, but some smaller guesthouses remained closed.

Benoit Jancloes, director of the rooms division at FCC Angkor, credited an in-house “irrigation system” with keeping the hotel dry, noting that it had been in the fortunate position of not having to turn guests away. The hotel actually benefited from the flood, he said, because guests reluctant to leave the premises had elected to eat most of their meals on-site.

The manager of Kama Sutra restaurant on Pub Street, who gave his name only as Sajeesh, said traffic from tourists was starting to pick up.

“Over the three days, business was down about 70 percent because with the floods people could not walk on the streets,” he said. “[Sunday] was good, but not 100 percent, but it’s improved.”

Geert Caboor, owner of The Red Piano bar and restaurant, also on Pub Street, said he was surprised at the pace of business while the waters were at their highest. “It’s strange, but business was not affected so much,” he said. “In the daytime, there were not as many people walking around, but people still wanted somewhere to eat in the evening. Strangely, for the time of year, we were not complaining.”

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY PETER OLSZEWSKI AND LILY PARTLAND

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