Red Cross fears more than 1,000 may have died in Philippine typhoon

Sunday, December 3rd 2006, 10:21 pm
By: News On 6

DARAGA, Philippines (AP) The Red Cross estimated Sunday that up to 1,000 people may have died in the typhoon that unleashed walls of black mud on entire villages in the Philippines. The country's president declared a state of national calamity.

Typhoon Durian struck the Philippines with winds reaching 165 mph and torrential rains on Thursday, causing ash and boulders from Mayon volcano on Luzon island to swamp villages around its base, a scene Philippine Sen. Richard Gordon described Sunday as a ``war zone.''

Hopes of finding any survivors beneath the volcanic mud, debris and boulders had virtually vanished. Bodies were buried in mass graves to prevent them from decomposing in the tropical heat.

On Monday, rescuers were digging with their hands and shovels to retrieve bodies, said Fernando Gonzalez, governor of worst-hit Albay province.

``Practically speaking, we are not very optimistic we'll find survivors,'' he told Radio DZBB.

Gordon, who heads the Philippine National Red Cross, estimated the death toll could reach 1,000 people. ``There are many unidentified bodies. There could be a lot more hidden below. Whole families may have been wiped out,'' he told The Associated Press by telephone.

The official figures recorded 425 dead, 507 injured and 599 missing.

``We are no strangers to this kind of tragedy, and we have always been able to recover and become stronger,'' President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo said in a statement Monday.

Arroyo said she instructed the Department of Environment to step up the mapping of all hazardous areas to help forewarn communities of the possible danger.

``We must not leave things to fatal luck when we can develop the tools to prevent harm,'' she said.

The state of national calamity declared by Arroyo will allow the government to rapidly release funds needed to bolster search and rescue efforts. She was scheduled to fly for a second time to Albay province on Tuesday, her spokesman said.

All but two dozen of the deaths occurred in Albay, with 165 in the flooded town of Guinobatan in the foothills of the Mayon volcano, about 200 miles southeast of Manila.

More than 50 tons of relief goods, medicine, body bags and other aid have been flown to the province by air force C-130 cargo planes, officials said.

Australia also made an initial pledge of $780,000 in immediate humanitarian relief. Canada earlier donated $876,000, while Japan said it would send $173,000.

In Albay's battered capital of Legazpi City, residents lined up Sunday to buy drinking water, gasoline and food. Panic gripped one community due to rumors of an impending tsunami, but officials quickly reassured people that no earthquakes had occurred.

Houses along the Yawa River in Padang, about seven miles from Legazpi, were buried under 5 feet of mud, with only their rooftops protruding. Some bodies had been washed out to sea, then swept by currents to the shores of an adjacent town.

Glenn Lorica, 22, said his family's house in Albay's Daraga town was destroyed by a torrent of mud, uprooted trees, rocks and debris. Seven members of his family are missing; only he and his younger sister are known to have survived.

He said he struggled to stay afloat in the rampaging mud flow by grabbing hold of trees while being battered by rocks and other debris. He removed his clothing to avoid being entangled in floating trees.

``I told myself that if I would die, so be it,'' Lorica said from a hospital bed.