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International
Sunday, 03-December-2006
DARAGA, Philippines - Hopes virtually vanished Sunday for finding survivors of typhoon-triggered mudslides that engulfed entire villages in the eastern Philippines, with the Red Cross fearing the death toll could reach 700.

The government's National Disaster Coordinating Center reported 309 bodies have been retrieved and 298 people remained missing three days after Typhoon Durian struck, triggering mudslides in worst-hit Albay province.

Sen. Richard Gordon, who heads the local Red Cross, said the death toll could easily reach 700 "on the low side," based on official casualty figures and reports his group obtained from mayors of devastated villages.

"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 phone.

No survivors are known to have been pulled from the swampy land since the first hours after Durian blasted ashore Thursday with winds gusting up to 265 kph (165 mph).

The storm affected 800,000 people, officials said.

The first funerals took place Saturday evening as bodies rapidly decomposed in the tropical heat.

All but two dozen of the deaths occurred in worst-hit Albay province, including 165 in the town of Guinobatan, swamped by floodwaters in the Mayon volcano's foothills, southeast of the capital Manila. Four other provinces reported fatalities, but accurate casualty figures were hard to come by, with the disaster's devastation so widespread and power and phone lines down.

In some places, rescue workers found only body parts.

"We need food, tents, water, body bags," Philippine National Red Cross official Andrew Nocon told DZMM radio Saturday. "We sent initially 300 bags, but we need more."

Houses along the Yawa River in Padang, about 10 kilometers (7 miles) from Legazpi, the capital of Albay province, were buried under 1 1/2 meters (5 feet) of mud, with only roofs protruding.

In Padang village, 28 bodies were recovered, said Luis Bello, the mayor's aide. Some of the bodies had been washed out to sea, then swept by currents to the shores of an adjacent town.

For nearly three hours late Thursday afternoon, mudslides ripped through Mayon's gullies, uprooting trees, flattening houses and swallowing people.

"Every corner of this province has been hit. It is a total devastation," Albay Gov. Fernando Gonzalez said. "Never before in the history have we seen water like this. Almost every residential area was flooded."

Australia conveyed its condolences through Ambassador Tony Hely to President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and made an initial pledge of US$780,000 (589,000) in immediate humanitarian relief. Canada earlier donated US$876,000 (660,000), while Japan said it would send US$173,000 (130,000).

Source: The Associated Press
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