- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 9, 2005

MANILA (AP) — Wailing parents carried the bodies of their children from hospitals after a snack of cassava — a root that’s poisonous if prepared incorrectly — killed 27 and sickened 100 others yesterday at an elementary school in the south-central Philippines.

With the nearest hospital 20 miles away from San Jose school, in Bohol island’s town of Mabini, some victims died while being carried in a variety of vehicles, including three-wheel motorcycle taxis.

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 vendor outside the school.

“Her friend is gone. She died,” Mrs. Doliente said.

Her niece was being treated, she said.

The roots of the cassava plant, a major crop in Southeast Asia and other parts of the world, are rich in protein, minerals and the vitamins A, B and C. However, cassava is poisonous unless it is peeled and thoroughly cooked. If it is eaten raw or prepared incorrectly, one of its chemical constituents will be attacked by digestive enzymes and give off the deadly poison cyanide. As little as two cassava roots can 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 Gallego of Garcia Memorial Provincial Hospital in the nearby town of Talibon, where 47 patients were taken.

Mabini Mayor Stephen Rances said 27 students were confirmed dead.

The victims suffered severe stomach pain, vomiting and diarrhea. They were taken to at least four hospitals from the school in Mabini, about 380 miles southeast of the capital, Manila.

Dr. Nenita Po of the government-run Gov. Celestino Gallares Memorial Hospital said 15 patients were brought there, including the 68-year-old woman who prepared the cassava along with another woman. Officials wanted to talk with the ailing woman, but said she was complaining of pain.

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