Philippine leader vows to rebuild flood-ravaged homes

CCAGAYAN DE ORO, Philippines - Philippine President Benigno Aquino Tuesday pledged to help flash flood survivors rebuild their lives, while lamenting they had willfully erected homes in hazardous areas.

"I assure you the government will help you rebuild your homes. But in return we expect you to refrain from moving back to those places that put your lives at constant risk," he said in a speech at an evacuation centre.

The government said more than a thousand people are dead or missing after flash floods ravaged the port cities of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan as well as nearby areas overnight Friday during the onslaught of tropical storm Washi.

Officials and experts said many of the dead were informal settlers living in shantytowns built on river sand bars made up of soft and unstable sediment.

Aquino told local officials and flood survivors that the government had earlier this year mapped out hazardous areas across the country that were unfit for human habitation.

Local officials are well aware where these areas are, he said, citing a hard-hit and impoverished Cagayan de Oro shantytown on a sandbar at the Cagayan river.

"Because we know the topography, we know where the areas prone to flooding are. So why are people still living in these areas?" he told his audience that included victims as well as officials.

Aquino, speaking inside the gymnasium of a government school being used as a temporary shelter for Cagayan de Oro residents displaced by the flash floods, said the government would fix the city's damaged roads and water systems.

In addition mass housing units would be built by government agencies in safe relocation areas, while water level sensors would be installed at major river basins across the country to warn communities of flooding hazards, he said.

Aquino later flew by helicopter to Iligan to meet local officials and distribute food packets to displaced residents at an evacuation centre there, an AFP photographer saw.