Nearly 200,000 people are homeless and more than 300 dead after the Philippines suffered its worst typhoon this year, authorities said Thursday, reaching out for international aid to cope with the scale of the disaster.
Typhoon Bopha ploughed across the major southern island of Mindanao on Tuesday, flattening nearly everything across its 700-kilometre (435-mile) wide path with a blend of hurricane-force winds, floods and landslides.
Civil defence chief Benito Ramos said the government priority was to find 379 people still missing and to build temporary shelters for more than 179,000 others who have been packed into schools and government buildings for now.
"There is no time limit -- as long as it takes," he told reporters when asked when the government planned to end the search for the missing.
"We need tents to decongest the evacuation centres," Ramos added.
Shell-shocked survivors have been scrabbling through the rubble of their homes to find anything that can be recovered, as relatives search for missing family members among mud-caked bodies laid out in rows on tarpaulins.
Ramos said 325 people were confirmed dead and 411 others injured from the strongest cyclone to reach the Philippines this year. The United States offered aid to the developing country, which is wearily familiar with natural disasters.
Deputy State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Washington offered its sympathies both for the Philippines and over damage caused to the island state of Palau as Bopha swept across the Pacific this week.
"Our embassies in Manila and Koror (Palau) have offered immediate disaster relief assistance, and we are working closely with authorities in both countries to offer additional assistance as needed," he said.
The Philippine government said typhoon gusts of up to 210 kilometres (130 miles) an hour had destroyed thousands of homes and other buildings, leaving residents with little more than the clothes on their backs.
Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman said the government had sought help from the Swiss-based International Organisation for Migration to build temporary shelters for Bopha survivors.
"The priority is to build bunkhouses so that there will be shelter for them," he said on ABS-CBN television Thursday.
President Benigno Aquino has sent navy ships with food and other supplies to 150,000 people on Mindanao's east coast where three towns remain cut off by landslides and wrecked bridges.
Officials said many of the Mindanao victims were poor migrants who have flocked by the thousands to mountainous, landslide-prone sites like the towns of New Bataan and Monkayo to work at unregulated, small-scale gold mines.
Those two towns alone accounted for half of the deaths, the civil defence office said.
Environment Secretary Ramon Paje said the national government had already declared many of these sites unsafe for human habitation due to deadly landslides that frequently hit the mines and nearby communities.
However, local authorities continue to issue mining permits and have proven unable to stem the growth of settlements on mountainsides and river valleys, he said on ABS-CBN.
"The local government must have the political will so that in the worst-case scenario, people in permanent danger zones must be forcibly evacuated," Paje said.
He said this policy had already been successfully adopted by Albay, a province southeast of Manila that is frequently hit with storms and volcanic eruptions.
"If you refuse to leave, the governor would arrive at your doorstep with the army and put you on board a military truck," Paje said.