Ketsana death toll approaches 300

A man tries to get into his flooded house in Hoi An in the central Vietnamese province of Quang Nam.
Ketsana, downgraded from a typhoon to a tropical depression, is heading towards Laos Wednesday after leaving a trail of death and destruction across Southeast Asia.

By early Wednesday morning, the death toll from the storm’s rage had crossed 293: at least 246 in the Philippines, 38 in Vietnam and nine in Cambodia. With heavy rains still lashing Vietnam, evacuated residents took advantage of receding waters to return to their homes. Workers used chainsaws to clear toppled trees from roads so rescue crews could rush relief supplies to the worst-hit areas. Families waded through knee-deep water to salvage precious belongings from flooded houses. In addition to the 38 deaths, the Central Steering Committee for Flood Control placed the number of missing at 10 and wounded at 81. The numbers, it said, are expected to rise. In neighboring Cambodia, the storm knocked down 92 houses in one province alone: Kampong Thom, about 80 miles (130 kilometers) north of the capital Phnom Penh. Along with rice and blankets, the Cambodian Red Cross planned to donate $120 to each of the affected families so they can afford a traditional funeral for their loved ones. The nine deaths reported in Cambodia were all in Kampong Thom, with 40 others wounded there, the Red Cross said. The worst-hit country, the Philippines, began the slow process of clearing up mud and debris Wednesday. In the city of Pasig — part of metropolitan Manila — enterprising residents used inflatable mattresses as makeshift boats to ferry people through flooded streets. The government, which has come under criticism for allegedly not acting soon enough, opened up part of the presidential palace for aid distribution.

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Ketsana left at least 246 people dead as it passed over the Philippines. Another 38 people were still missing, the National Disaster Coordinating Council said. The storm affected nearly two million people and forced the evacuation of 567,000. At one point, 80 percent of the capital Manila was under water after experiencing the heaviest rainfall in 40 years. “I did not know what happened,” said Gingerly Comprendio. “We were on top of a roof. We got separated. The next day when I came back to our house, I saw my eldest already dead and my aunt saw my other child buried in the mud.” Ray Lee, a prominent judge, single-handedly saved 32 people using his jet ski. “There were cries for help, so I returned to other houses or roofs and retrieved all the people there,” he said.

To help avoid a humanitarian catastrophe, several nations have rallied to the Philippines’ side. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said the United Nations was considering an emergency appeal for aid as several U.N. agencies pledged support. The World Food Program said it will provide rations to 180,000 people.