Photo by: Heng Chivoan and AFP
Buddhist monks survey the damage in Kampong Thom province (left), while a group of women wade unperturbed through the floodwaters.
THE Cambodian death toll from Typhoon Ketsana climbed to 14 on Thursday, as an unprecedented clean-up operation was launched in the wake of the most ferocious storm to lash the Kingdom in living memory.
In a central Cambodian village where nine people were killed, authorities moved fallen trees from roads while victims sifted through the remains of their muddy, smashed wooden houses and gathered what was left of their possessions.
“Everything of mine, including rice, is destroyed. We are staying under a tent, filled with fear,” said weeping villager Ket Suon, 43, who fled his home with his family as it was crushed by the storm Tuesday evening.
As of last night, the National Committee for Disaster Management confirmed 14 deaths across the Kingdom. In addition to the nine who died in Kampong Thom when their houses collapsed on Tuesday night, three deaths were confirmed in Siem Reap province, where the river burst its banks and caused widespread flooding. Two more deaths were confirmed in northeastern Ratanakkiri province from flash floods.
The toll is expected to rise, with scattered reports of fatalities still emerging from remote rural areas. Sorn Thoeun, disaster reduction coordinator at World Vision, said two people also died in Mondulkiri province, although the province’s deputy governor, Yim Lux, said that they were only “missing”.
Relief efforts were under way Thursday, with local authorities and Red Cross officials working to help those who lost their homes or were forced to flee because of flooding.
“When you’ve got hundreds or thousands of hectares of rice fields affected by floods, that could affect food security in the coming months,” said Sharon Wilkinson, Cambodia director for CARE International.
The number of people displaced by the storm’s destructive force is expected to reach into the tens of thousands nationwide, but officials were at a loss Thursday as to what the final tally might be. “We do not know how many families are affected in the country,” said Uy Sam Ath, director of disaster management for the Cambodian Red Cross.
Typhoon Ketsana killed at least 383 people across Southeast Asia before it was downgraded to a tropical storm on Wednesday. The international community has since mobilised, pledging millions of dollars of aid for the battered region. On Wednesday, the European Commission promised €2 million (US$2.9 million) for relief efforts in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. Ly Thuch, deputy chief of the National Committee for Disaster Management, insisted Cambodia’s government had humanitarian efforts “under control” as it coordinated aid to affected areas with local and international agencies.
In Kampong Thom’s Teak Mileang village, however, locals were left picking up the pieces. Phan Sokheun, 52, was struggling to make sense of the carnage. “I never thought my village could be destroyed like this,” she said. “My house was demolished by the storm, but it is raining heavily, so my family will get sick soon because we cannot bear the cold conditions. I don’t know how I can.”
Kong Many, 47, said he feared supplies would soon run out. “We have food provided by the Cambodian Red Cross, but it cannot support us for much longer,” he said. “Then how will we find food?”
Governor Chhun Chhorn said 200 police officers had been mobilised to help the homeless, but more help was needed in the province, which felt the full force of the typhoon when it reached Cambodia.
World Vision spokesman Haidy Ear-Dupuy warned it could be weeks before people in some of the worst-hit areas of Kampong Thom can return home.
Although most of the storm’s strength has been expended, the Mekong River is expected to reach dangerous levels within three days. “We are alerting people in the provinces around the Mekong of severe incidents,” said Mao Hak, director of hydrology and river works at the Ministry of Water Resources and Meteorology. Water levels in Stung Treng, Kratie and Kampong Cham provinces remain dangerously close to alert levels, he said.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY KHUON LEAKHANA, IRWIN LOY AND AFP