Philippine calamity toll may hit 1,000

(China Daily)
Updated: 2006-12-04 07:11

DARAGA, Philippines: President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo declared a state of national calamity yesterday as the top Red Cross official estimated more than 1,000 people have been killed after a massive typhoon unleashed walls of black mud on entire villages.

"We're estimating the casualties could reach 1,000, perhaps more," Senator Richard Gordon, who heads the local Red Cross, told Radio DZBB.

Gordon said the Red Cross had recorded a death toll of at least 406, with 398 missing, based on figures provided by mayors of devastated towns in the eastern Philippines, where Typhoon Durian hit with of up to 265 kph and torrential rains on Thursday.

Government figures placed the number of dead at 324, with 302 missing and 438 injured.

Arroyo declared a state of national calamity, allowing the government to more rapidly release funds needed to bolster search and rescue efforts. She is scheduled to fly for a second time to worst-hit Albay province tomorrow, spokesman Ignacio Bunye said.

Typhoon Durian was the fourth major storm to hit the Philippines in four months. It buffeted the Mayon volcano with so much wind and rain that ash and boulders cascaded down in walls of black mud that swamped entire villages a scene Gordon described as a "war zone."

"There are many unidentified bodies. There could be a lot more hidden below. Whole families may have been wiped out," Gordon told The Associated Press by telephone.

No survivors are known to have been pulled from farmlands buried by volcanic mud, debris and boulders and hopes for finding any have virtually vanished.

After surveying the blackened wasteland, Spanish rescue volunteer David Quintana was pessimistic. "Chances are zero because you cannot breathe, there is no air," he said.

The first funerals took place on Saturday evening and several more bodies were buried in mass graves yesterday as bodies rapidly decomposed in the tropical heat.

All but two dozen of the deaths occurred in Albay, with 165 in the town of Guinobatan, swamped by floodwaters in the foothills of Mayon volcano southeast of the capital, Manila.

Four other provinces reported fatalities, but accurate casualty figures were hard to come by because power lines and phone services were down.

In some places, searchers found only body parts.


(China Daily 12/04/2006 page1)

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