At least 31 people were reported killed and 49 others missing after tropical storm Kai-tak battered the central Philippines a week before Christmas. Most fatalities were due to landslides in Biliran province, while many of the missing came from Samar province. The Social Welfare Department reported that 44,369 families fled to 608 evacuation centers in the affected regions. The tropical storm was expected to pass over the Philippines by Dec. 19 but authorities warned of another storm in coming days. Romina Marasigan, spokeswoman of the national disaster response agency said many areas in the central part of the country were flooded. "Everyone is busy cleaning up mud left by flood waters," said Lyza Sabornido, a resident of Naval town in Biliran province. She said streets turned into a river of mud when the storm made landfall on Saturday, the first day of the traditional Filipino nine-day Christmas celebration. Sabornido told ucanews.com by phone that there was a shortage of drinking water in some areas because supply could not be brought in because of downed bridges. "Right now, we still don’t have electricity," said Father Romulo Espina of the Our Lady of the Holy Rosary Parish in Naval. "Our major concern is water and food. We hope we can get help," he told ucanews.com by phone. The priest said people were surprised by the amount of rain the storm brought. "Roads were flooded and bridges were destroyed," he said. He said the latest disaster is another wake-up call on the effects of climate change. "I went to inspect a damaged bridge and saw that there were only four trees there," said Father Espina. In Tacloban, Bernadeth Opiniano, a 35-year old mother of two, said she does not know where to get money to rebuild her shelter. "It's sad, especially because it's Christmas time," she said.
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In Aklan province, police were looking into the death of a village leader whose body was found at the back of a parish church. Witnesses said the man was last seen helping people escape strong winds and rain brought about by the typhoon. In Manila, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle appealed to Catholics for help. "Let us remember our brothers in Leyte as they are being hit by the storm. Our celebration cannot be separate from those who are in need," said the prelate. The bad weather, however, did not deter Catholics in storm-affected areas holding their traditional predawn Masses to usher in Christmas. Father Jenious Mansalay, social action director of Masbate Diocese, said people were "undeterred as many still attended the celebrations." In Palo Archdiocese, Father Alcris Badana noted a "slightly lower number" of people attending early morning Masses than last year. The state weather bureau Pagasa, meanwhile, said a new cyclone is threatening to hit the country in the coming days. The new storm, currently packing winds of up to 50 kph, could hit the Philippines on Dec. 22, according to the bureau.