Thu, 10 Mar 2005

From: Reuters

Cassava balls kill 25 children in RP

Manny Mogato, Reuters/Manila

At least 25 elementary school children died and close to 80 people were hospitalized on Wednesday after eating fried cassava balls in a remote village on Bohol island in the central Philippines, local officials said.

The victims fell ill about a half-hour after eating the cassava balls, a local delicacy, during a mid-morning break, said Stephen Rances, mayor of Mabini town on Bohol island.

"Several children were brought here vomiting and complaining of stomach aches," said Elpidio Bonito, a doctor at Ubay town, where 69 elementary students were taken on Wednesday noon.

Seven of the children did not reach the hospital alive, he said.

Close to 50 students from San Jose Elementary School were taken to two other hospitals, including a middle-aged woman who sold the fried cassava balls.

Rances said they suspect the children were poisoned by the cassava because the root crop, if not properly cooked, may contain cyanide, local doctors said.

"The children had nothing but cassava balls during their snack break," he told reporters.

Television images showed panic-stricken parents carrying their ill children to local clinics. Some of the dead, covered by white blankets, were piled onto a flatbed truck.

Inside a local clinic, dozens of children lay side-by-side as doctors appealed for supplies to deal with the sudden surge of medical cases.

Health Secretary Manuel Dayrit said the government will send an epidemiologist to Bohol on Thursday to investigate the cause of the food poisoning incident.