Fri, Dec 03, 2004 - Page 1 News List

160,000 people evacuated as storm hits Philippines

AP , MARAGUNDON, PHILIPPINES

More than 160,000 people fled to high ground or crowded into schools and town halls yesterday as yet another powerful typhoon battered the eastern Philippines, where rescuers are still struggling to find scores of missing from an earlier storm that killed more than 420 people.

Mudslides and flash floods have turned entire provinces facing the Pacific Ocean into a sea of chocolate-brown mud littered with bodies, uprooted trees, collapsed homes and bridges.

At least 422 people were killed and 177 were missing, officials said yesterday.

Survivors sifted through piles of mud, which in some towns was ankle deep, for clothes and belongings.

Soldiers, police and medical workers trekked with relief supplies across flood-ravaged roads and bare mountains to reach towns cut off by landslides.

In Infanta town in Quezon province, east of Manila, where 100 died, officials allowed residents to briefly leave evacuation centers to retrieve belongings from damaged homes, but warned them to return because of the typhoon.

"We are not concerned so much about saving property. We just want to save lives," said Infanta Mayor Filipina America.

Weather forecasters have warned that Typhoon Nanmadol -- expected to make landfall late yesterday -- could be especially fierce, with winds of up to 240kph.

Schools and offices were closed in Manila and in a large part of the main northern island, Luzon. The coast guard prevented ferries, small boats and fishermen from leaving ports, and the air force said the bad weather had basically grounded its rescue fleet.

In coastal Mercedes town, 230km southeast of Manila, about 2,000 people moved into a school as heavy rains and strong winds lashed the area. Similar evacuations took place throughout the region, where people took refugee in sturdy buildings.

The Office of Civil Defense reported as many as 168,000 people have been evacuated.

Rough seas and debris forced a navy gunboat to turn around after it tried to bring food and medicine to the hardest-hit town, Real, in Quezon province, where a landslide earlier this week killed at least 150, said navy spokesman Captain Geronimo Malabanan.

Later yesterday, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo distributed relief goods during a 10-minute visit to Maragundon, on the outskirts of Real.

About 400 troops set out for Real on foot with relief supplies in their backpacks and in boxes perched on their heads, inching along a route blocked by up to 20 landslides, said regional military commander Major General Pedro Cabuay.

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