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Monday, 04-December-2006
By Jason Gutierrez in Legaspi - THE Red Cross sent out an urgent plea for water, food and medicine today as Philippine officials said more than 1000 people were dead or missing after mudslides swallowed up whole villages.
The Government's National Disaster Coordinating Centre confirmed 425 dead from the mudslides around Mayon volcano trigged by super typhoon Durian rains. It listed a further 599 people as missing in the same eastern region of Bicol.

Executive officer Glenn Rabonza said more than one million people had been affected by the disaster with damage to property alone estimated at about 274 million pesos ($A7 million).

The Red Cross revised its figure on the number dead from 406 to 333 today, saying it had counted some bodies twice, but warned it expected the toll to rise.

The deadly mudslides were triggered by torrential rains from Durian which mixed with volcanic ash on the slopes of Mayon volcano.

President Gloria Arroyo has declared a "state of national calamity'' and authorised the immediate release of a billion pesos ($A25.37 million) to rehabilitate affected areas.

"The situation is still pretty chaotic with communications still down in most of the affected areas on Bicol,'' a Red Cross spokesman said.

"Four provinces, including Albay, were badly hit by the typhoon. Our main concern now is fresh water, food and medicines to treat the injured making their way to evacuation centres.''

In the village of Maipon men returned to dig out valuables from their homes.

Like so many towns and villages around Mayon, it was reduced to rubble by the torrent of mud estimated to be four metres thick that crashed into the town carrying with it boulders as big as cars.

This morning, there were no rescue teams or heavy earth moving equipment and a stream had formed where the main road used to be.

All that was left was the welcome arch over the main street.

"There is nothing left here, there are no neighbours left,'' said Josefina Olander, 66, who saved some 50 people after she told them to clamber up the roof of her two-storey concrete home.

"Those lucky to be alive are either injured or grieving.''

All 10 members of her family are alive, but the bottom half of the house is underground.

"Mayon gave us fertile land to till. It took it back in an instant,'' she said.

Canine search team leader Marvy Umali, who conducted a sweep of one section of Maipon two days ago, said 16 bodies had been recovered.

"No more have been found. The ground is hard, thick sand, mud and debris,'' he said.

"The dogs had a hard time because the site is contaminated. There are dead animals as well as humans.''

Senator Richard Gordon, the National Red Cross president, said yesterday he expected the death toll could pass 1000 as hopes faded of finding further survivors.

"It is important we recover as much as we can ... but at some point we have to declare closure and declare a mass grave over the area,'' he said in radio interviews.

Many villages have not yet reported how many residents are dead.

In some cases, whole families have been buried.

"All resources of the Government will continue to be mobilised without let-up as we pin hope against hope on the search of survivors,'' Mr Arroyo said yesterday.

But on the ground today there was little evidence that those resources had arrived.

In various parts of the Bicol region, southeast of Manila, communities have resorted to mass burials to deal with the scores of unclaimed bodies that were starting to decompose.

Power, communications and water remained out of service across most of the region, further hampering relief efforts, as more tales of tragedy and loss came in.

The disaster comes after some 30,000 people were evacuated from the slopes of Mayon earlier this year amid signs that the volcano was erupting.

However, the residents were allowed to return home in September after Mayon simmered down.

Source: The Australian
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