Philippines flood
A woman stands next to a Red Cross sign among debris in a village hit by flash floods brought by Typhoon Washi in Cagayan de Oro Reuters

Flash floods and landslides caused by Typhoon Washi in the Philippines killed at least 684 people over the weekend, and the county's southern islands now have the grim task of burying their dead.

Putting the flood victims underground is the highest priority in the cities of Iligan and Cagayan de Oro, for fear of the spread of disease. Workers are busy digging individual graves, even as space and resources like coffins deplete. Officials took mass graves into consideration, but have decided against the idea, even though many of the bodes are too decomposed to be identified.

Definitely, we are not burying them in mass graves. That is not allowed any more, Levi Villarin, Iligan city health officer, told Reuters.

Instead, the victims are slowly being laid to rest in public cemeteries.

For public health purposes, we're doing this. The bodies are decomposing and there is no place where we can place them, not in an enclosed building, not in a gymnasium, Illigan's Mayor Lawrence Cruz told the Associated Press.

Bodies have been laid out in front of the over-burdened morgue in Iligan, which has run out of embalming fluid and coffins. Some of the bodies are being buried in plastic bags.

Officially, 82 people are still missing but local Red Cross agencies put the number closer to 800. Relief agencies sent in extra body-bags, as well as food, water and medicine on Monday.

A Preventable Tragedy?

The Philippines is a country that is used to natural disasters. There are moderate to severe floods nearly every year -- the 2006 floods resulted in more than 1,000 deaths in the province of province of Southern Leyte.

The county's familiarity with such events has given some reason to question the government's preparedness.

“The costs are too high for us not to use what we have learned from past experiences in better preparing ourselves for future typhoons,” Senator Edgardo Angara, head of the congressional commission on science and technology, said in a statement.

President Benigno Aquino has order an immediate report on disaster agencies response to the flooding. The government maintains that it has the resources to immediately assist victims, and has 1.3 billion pesos set aside in a calamity fund, according to BusinessWeek.

The narrow silver lining on the dark cloud that was the typhoon is that Maoist rebels have called a six-day Christmas and New Year's truce to aid flood victims. The Communist Party of the Philippines and its guerrilla New People's Army have been fighting the government since 1969. The rebels killed five soldiers on Friday before announcing the ceasefire.