, CALUMPIT, Philippines, Aug 12 – As floods which have swamped parts of the Philippines and affected more than two million people extend into their second week, the dead and the living are sharing premium space on dry ground.
Teresa Concepcion and her extended family of five moved to the Catholic cemetery in Calumpit town, on the main island of Luzon, on Wednesday after their house went under chest-deep floodwaters. Both they and the water have stayed put since.
The Concepcions have set up camp on the tops of tombs that sit like islands atop the murky water. Some of the bigger tombs have roofs, providing a dry spot even during the rain.
“We believe in ghosts, but they have not troubled us. Maybe they took pity on us and allowed us to stay,” the 34-year-old unwed mother of two told AFP on Saturday as she dried driftwood with which to cook their food.
Her mother was also keeping busy, taking advantage of a break in the rain to wash clothes.
But her father, who gets paid 300 pesos ($7.16) for burying the dead, is temporarily out of work because funerals have been put off until after the disaster.
In the capital Manila, several cemeteries are home to entire communities of settlers who dwell among the tombs year round and eke out a living as scavengers in nearby rubbish dumps.
The Concepcions appeared quite relaxed about remaining at the cemetery which is just across the road from their home.
“We had done this once before, and three of our neighbours have told us they plan to join us,” she said. “But we could do with food rations though.”
The family has survived on buying instant noodles and tins of sardines from a nearby store.
The floods, which submerged about 80 percent of Manila for about two days early last week, have killed 66 people and affected 2.68 million others, according to the government.
Large areas of Calumpit, a farming town 50 kilometres (30 miles) north of the capital, have been swamped with floods for a week, as have surrounding areas on the low-lying, rice-growing plains at the centre of Luzon.
While most of the waters in the capital had receded by Friday, large areas of central Luzon remained paralysed by waters that remain chest-deep in some parts.
More than 441,000 people displaced by the floods are crammed into schools, gymnasiums and other government-run makeshift evacuation centres.
Tens of thousands more have been converging on the centres each day, and the government has repeatedly said the refuges are overwhelmed. Those who cannot find space there have sought shelter elsewhere.
Rosie Flores, 52, and 30 other people arrived at a small village Catholic church in Paombong, the town neighbouring Calumpit, on the first day of the floods.
They have shared the refuge with a coffin carrying the embalmed body of an old woman who died the same day.
Each family has a pew to sleep on but there is not enough room for everyone so individuals need to take turns, and everyone shares a single bathroom.
“We’re all neighbours here,” the mother-of-three told AFP on Friday, explaining their familiarity meant they did not mind sharing such cramped quarters.
The family’s house, along with a fish farm managed by her husband, remains underwater, as is the church courtyard, so the children play in front of the altar near the dead woman’s coffin.
Flores said her family had received just one grocery bag of food relief and two small bottles of drinking water.
Complaints of not enough food have been common throughout the flood zones, and the government has conceded it has not had enough manpower to get relief goods out as quickly as it had hoped.
State meteorologist Jori Loyz said central Luzon suffered from its low elevation, turning it into a catchment for heavy rain not only in the immediate area but also water running off the mountains to the east.
No-one is sure how long the floods will last. Loyz said thunderstorms were forecast for central Luzon over the coming days, so the Concepcions may be sharing space with the dead for a while yet.