Death toll rises to 198 in Philippine typhoon, 260 missing

Friday, December 1st 2006, 5:44 am
By: News On 6

MANILA, Philippines (AP) _ The fourth major typhoon to hit the Philippines in four months killed 198 people and left 260 others missing, officials said Friday.

Typhoon Durian caused flash floods and sent walls of muddy volcanic ash and red-hot boulders crashing down on several villages, the officials said.

The national Office of Civil Defense reported 198 people were killed and 260 were missing. Fernando Gonzalez, governor of worst-hit Albay province, said the figures included 109 people who died in mudslides on the slopes of the Mayon volcano that also injured 130.

``The disaster covered almost every corner of this province _ rampaging floods, falling trees, damaged houses,'' Gonzalez said.

With power and phone lines downed by powerful winds, helicopters were carrying out aerial surveillance of cutoff areas. Officials estimated that the storm affected some 22,000 people.

The magnitude of the destruction hampered relief operations.

``Our rescue teams are overstretched rescuing people on rooftops,'' said Glen Rabonza, head of the national Office of Civil Defense.

Gonzalez said seven or eight villages had been hit by the wet lava flows that rumbled down Mayon's slopes for three hours Thursday.

``It happened very rapidly and many people did not expect this because they haven't experienced mud flows in those areas before,'' Gonzalez said. ``By the time they wanted to move, the rampaging mud flows were upon them.''

On Friday, people were digging foundations for new homes, hammering tin sheets onto leaking roofs and drying pillows, mattresses and clothes in the sun.

``The wind was extremely strong,'' said Domingo Billares, sitting beside his wife in the town of Ragay, in Camarines Sur province, where the wooden frame was the only thing left of their home. ``We thought we would not survive through the day.''

Undersecretary Dr. Graciano Yumul of the Department of Science and Technology said the storm was particularly damaging because it came ashore Thursday in Catanduanes, an island province with no mountains to break the storm's momentum.

``So it really destroyed the island that it hit,'' Yumul said. ``That is the reason you are seeing the kind of destruction you are seeing right now.

Noel Rosal, mayor of Legazpi city, the capital of Albay province, visited Padang and said three of the five communities comprising the village of 1,400 people had been ``wiped out'' with only the roofs of several houses jutting out of the debris.

Rosal said Padang can only be reached by foot or motorcycle because a bridge linking it to Legazpi, about six miles away, was damaged.

He said the mudslide occurred Thursday afternoon as the city was lashed by Durian. His own residence was under water that was ``higher than a person'' from a flash flood.

``I was almost a goner. I had to swim,'' Rosal said.

Jukes Nunez of the Albay Provincial Disaster Coordinating Council said many communities were still flooded Friday morning.

``The request for rescue is overwhelming. The disaster managers are victims themselves,'' he said.

Durian _ the fourth to ``super typhoon'' to hit the Philippines in as many months _ was packing sustained winds of 121 mph and gusts of up to 139 mph, the weather bureau said. By Friday, the typhoon weakened as it moved north of Mindoro island south of Manila with sustained winds of 94 mph and gusts of up to 116 mph as it headed toward the South China Sea.

In late September, Typhoon Xangsane left 230 people dead and missing in and around Manila. Typhoon Cimaron killed 19 people and injured 58 others last month, and earlier this month, Chebi sliced through the central Luzon region, killing one.

About 20 typhoons and tropical storms hit the Philippines each year.