Rescuers scramble to reach victims after back-to-back storms kill more than 600 in Philippines; nearly 400 missing

Friday, December 3rd 2004, 6:15 am
By: News On 6

REAL, Philippines (AP) _ Flash floods and landslides triggered by back-to-back storms that lashed the northeastern Philippines had killed more than 600 people by Friday, with nearly 400 still missing, military officials said. Some 170,000 have fled their homes for higher ground.

Rescuers scrambled to reach thousands stranded by the storms. Mudslides and flash floods have turned entire provinces facing the Pacific Ocean into a sea of chocolate-brown mud littered with bodies, uprooted trees, collapsed homes and bridges.

Health authorities urged local officials to quickly bury the dead to avoid disease.

``We're getting reports of bodies still floating in the rivers,'' said air force spokesman Lt. Col. Restituto Padilla.

The brunt of the devastation was wrought by a tropical storm that blew through northeastern provinces on Monday and Tuesday, killing at least 527 people, the military's Chief of Staff Gen. Efren Abu said Friday.

Hardest hit was the province of Quezon, where 484 bodies have been recovered and 352 were still missing.

Typhoon Nanmadol struck the same storm-hit region late Thursday.

While Quezon province bore the brunt of the storms, about 100 people were found dead in the isolated village of Dumingan in Aurora province, about 60 miles northeast of Manila, Maj. Gen. Romeo Tolentino told ABS-CBN TV.

``We found out today that there is a district in the village of Dumingan where more or less 100 people are dead,'' he said. ``Our soldiers now are helping the populace to recover the survivors and bury the dead.''

Tolentino, the regional military commander, said it was not immediately clear whether those 100 had died from the storm on Monday or from the typhoon.

He said the coastal village could not be easily reached because landslides were blocking the road.

``There were landslides and our civilians were going hungry,'' he said. ``Some were wet. So they are really pitiful.''

At least 30 other people were reported killed in Aurora province from the typhoon, including 25 in a landslide, the Office of Civil Defense reported.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo appealed to the nation to ``come together ... (and) reach out to those who need help.''

``We need one great heave to deliver the relief supplies, find the missing, rescue the isolated, feed the hungry and shelter the homeless,'' Arroyo said in a televised statement.

Exact casualty figures were hard to establish because many towns were cut off by landslides.

Soldiers, police and medical workers set out Thursday on foot with relief supplies, trekking across flood-ravaged roads and bare mountains to try to reach the victims of Monday's storm in the towns of Real, Infants and General Nakar in Quezon province.

The towns were almost entirely covered in piles of mud from that storm, in some places ankle deep. TV footage showed mud-covered bodies laid out in common areas, where anguished mothers wept for their children.

Nanmadol made landfall late Thursday with sustained winds of 115 mph. It hit the northern half of the main island of Luzon before veering north toward Taiwan early Friday.

Taiwan's Central Weather Bureau said the typhoon would bring heavy rains over the weekend and warned ships in the Taiwan Strait to take precautions.

Schools and government offices remained closed Friday throughout the country. The coast guard allowed ferries and fishing boats to resume normal operations, and rescue operations were able to continue with the clearing weather.

The Philippines is hit by about 20 storms and typhoons a year. A typhoon and another storm last week killed at least 87 people and left 80 missing in the east.