Sun, Dec 21, 2003 - Page 1 News List

Landslides, flash floods kill scores in Philippines

OUT OF THE BLUE Most of the dead, injured and missing people were in their beds when the killer landslides hit their homes after six days of heavy rain

REUTERS AND AP , MANILA

The death toll in the landslides triggered by six days of heavy rains in the central Philippines was expected to top 100 after 35 bodies were found with scores still missing yesterday.

Government officials said most of the people were asleep when the landslides hit the towns of San Francisco and Liloan in Southern Leyte province late on Friday.

Four people were injured when their houses collapsed and 83 were still missing, they said.

Disaster officials said a dozen people were also killed in landslides and flash floods triggered by the rains on the southern island of Mindanao, adjacent to Leyte island.

About 300 people were evacuated to safer areas in Southern Leyte after troops rushed to the disaster zone to rescue victims trapped under tonnes of mud and debris dumped from the nearby hills, officials said.

"This is the worst experience we have had in years," said Rosette Lerias, governor of the province.

She said bad weather, blocked roads and a power outage in the region were hampering rescue work.

Lerias said soldiers had reached only one of the two affected areas after trekking for many hours.

"We really have no idea of the magnitude of the disaster because the weather has kept us from moving and inspecting other areas," she said.

Allen Olayvar, coordinator of the Office of Civil Defense in Southern Leyte, said provincial officials received cell phone text messages early yesterday reporting the casualties.

"Emergency!" one text message said. "There are so many dead from landslide here ... Please inform the governor to get help here."

Heavy rains and strong winds had made it difficult for two military helicopters to fly to the disaster areas from an airbase on Cebu island, an official said.

Lerias blamed widespread illegal logging on the nearby hills for the landslides.

Illegal logging was also blamed for flash floods that killed at least 170 people in Indonesia's Gunung Leuser national park in North Sumatra last month.

"Thank God, there was no typhoon," Lerias said, adding that a low-pressure area northeast of the island was dumping rain in the region.

The rains began Monday in eastern parts of the central Philippines and Mindanao, and continued throughout yesterday.

The country of 82 million people is hit by 17 to 20 typhoons a year.

The most destructive was Thelma, which struck Leyte island in November 1991 and unleashed floods that killed about 5,000 people.

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