At least 27 elementary school children died and another 100 were hospitalized after eating a snack of cassava — a root that’s poisonous if not prepared correctly — during morning recess Wednesday in the southern Philippines, officials said.
Francisca Doliente, said her 9-year-old niece Arve Tamor was given some of the deep-fried caramelized cassava by a classmate who bought it from a regular vendor outside the San Jose school.
“Her friend is gone. She died,” Doliente told The Associated Press, adding that her niece was undergoing treatment.
The roots of the cassava plant, a major crop in Southeast Asia and other parts of the world, are rich in protein, minerals and vitamins A, B and C. However, it is poisonous without proper preparation. Eaten raw, the human digestive system will convert part of it into cyanide. Even two cassava roots contain a fatal dose.
“Some said they took only two bites because it tasted bitter and the effects were felt five to 10 minutes later,” said Dr. Harold Garcia of Garcia Memorial Provincial Hospital in the nearby town of Talibon, where 47 patients were taken.
Hospital 20 miles away
The victims suffered severe stomach pain, then vomiting and diarrhea. They were taken to at least four hospitals near the school in Mabini, a town on Bohol island, about 380 miles southeast of Manila.
Mabini Mayor Stephen Rances said 27 students were confirmed dead. Treatment was delayed because the nearest hospital was 20 miles away.
Grace Vallente, 26, said her 7-year-old nephew Noel died en route to the hospital and that her 9-year-old niece Roselle was undergoing treatment.
“There are many parents here,” she said from L.G. Cotamura Community Hospital in Bohol’s Ubay town. “The kids who died are lined up on beds. Everybody’s grief-stricken.”
Dr. Leta Cutamora confirmed 14 dead at the hospital and 35 others admitted for treatment.
Dr. Nenita Po, chief of the government-run Gov. Celestino Gallares Memorial Hospital, said 13 were brought there, including the 68-year-old woman who prepared the food with another woman. Two girls, ages 7 and 8, died.
A specimen of the cassava was taken for inspection at the local Crime Laboratory Group.