Christmas rush to give

Water and relief goods being distributed to evacuees in West City Central School in Barangay Carmen, Cagayan de Oro City, Philippines where more than 5,000 have evacuated.

A unique Christmas rush is on: The rush to give to the victims and survivors of Tropical Storm "Sendong."

Aid has steadily poured in for the thousands still reeling from the unprecedented flash floods that struck Northern Mindanao and parts of the Visayas last week, a national tragedy that has moved many to tone down their Yuletide revelry and extend their gift-giving to the grieving and the homeless.

At the Philippine Daily Inquirer main office in Makati City Tuesday, a bemedalled athlete walked in to donate a check for P130,000 (S$3,800) to the newspaper's relief drive.

Apryl Dalmacio Eppinger, a sprint cyclist who won two silver medals and a bronze at the recent Southeast Asian Games in Jakarta, went straight to the Inquirer just hours after getting the check from Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp.

The amount, she said, represented the government incentives she earned for her SEA Games performance.

"It's so close to Christmas and yet they're mourning. It's not fair to them," Eppinger, 26, said of Sendong's victims. "I haven't experienced something like that, but this is something that really touches you. I have so much emotion that I can't describe how I feel about it."

A mix of Filipino, German, and Australian blood, Eppinger was the lone female cyclist on the Philippine team that competed in Jakarta. She said she only learned of the calamity days after arriving in Manila for a visit from her home in Melbourne, and felt that "it was only natural for me to help."

In a message to the victims, Eppinger, who also writes a blog, said: "I felt your cries with my heart. I hope that (the donation) would help relieve some of your suffering. No matter how far away you are, there are many of us who want to support you. You are always in our thoughts and prayers."

Hers was just one of the countless outpourings of sympathy for the people of the cities of Cagayan de Oro, Iligan and Dumaguete, and other areas that faced Sendong's wrath over the weekend.

Death toll

Nearly 1,000 people-998 to be exact, as of yesterday-have died from the storm and countless more are feared dead, according to a top disaster official.

"It's possible the death toll will exceed 1,000 because there are many more missing," said Benito Ramos, executive director of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC).

As of Tuesday afternoon, the official death toll stood at 998.

According to the NDRRMC count, the number of those killed in Cagayan De Oro City has reached 616; Iligan City, 283; Bukidnon, 47; Negros Oriental, 38; Cebu, one; Zamboanga del Norte, three; Compostela Valley, five; Surigao Del Sur, one; and Lanao Del Sur, four.

"We have lost count of the missing because of the sheer number. Even the local governments have lost count already," Ramos said. A Philippine Red Cross tally put the number of missing at over 500.

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