Sun, Dec 05, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Stricken Philippines begs for help

SERIOUS CONCERNS Officials in the storm-ravaged north of the country say already small stocks of relief goods are dwindling and they need food and medicine


Helicopters delivered food to famished survivors and picked up casualties as the weather cleared yesterday in villages ravaged by back-to-back storms that left 640 people dead and nearly 400 missing in the northern Philippines.

Officials, worried over rapidly dwindling relief goods, asked for more food, dry clothes, medicine and construction materials to help thousands of villagers overcome the devastation wrought by the storm and typhoon.

In the worst-hit coastal town of Real in Quezon province, about 70km east of Manila, hundreds of residents lined up for food at a school complex turned into a relief center. Army troops handed boiled eggs to elderly women and children.

"If there's a continuous flow of support, we can make it," said Mayor Arsenio Ramallosa as he supervised the distribution of food and relief goods. "But at the moment, the government's relief supplies would only be good for three days," he said.

Official figures released earlier indicated that more than 650 people had died in the storms, but the latest tally released yesterday put the figure at 640.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, her boots muddied after visiting typhoon-ravaged areas near Real, flew into the town with aides aboard three helicopters and received loud applause from residents in Real, where about 240 people were killed and 144 remained missing.

Arroyo shook the hands of elderly women, children and fatigues-clad army soldiers, telling them: "Congratulations, you are heroes." She later walked into a relief center to help distribute plastic bags of rice and canned sardines, and handed a US$17,850 check to Ramallosa to fund relief activities.

About 90 percent of the mostly thatch houses in Real, a coastal town of about 40,000 farmers and fishermen, were damaged when floodwaters uprooted trees and sent boulders and debris rampaging down nearby hills that many say have been denuded by loggers.

Reinforcing a widely held belief that years of illegal logging set off the deluge, Arroyo told reporters: "I'm canceling all [logging] permits here and suspending issuance of all others."

Most of the devastation was wrought by a tropical storm that blew through northeastern provinces late on Monday, killing at least 527 people, military Chief of Staff General Efren Abu said on Friday. Hardest hit was Quezon province, where 484 bodies have been recovered and 352 people were still missing, he said.

Residents tearfully recalled hearing a booming sound then the sudden crash of floodwaters, boulders, trees and mud that swept away houses and people.

Gloria Rodriguez, 66, said she was in her house with a daughter, son and 10 grandchildren when their dwelling was hit by torrents of water and debris "in an instant, giving us only enough time to save ourselves."

Her daughter was swept away by the floodwaters and has not been found. "I don't know where she is now," she said.

Florida de la Cruz was preparing food at the dinner table when muddy water gushed into her house. She managed to run to safety with her eight children but two nephews and two nieces in nearby houses perished.

Typhoon Nanmadol then struck the same region late on Thursday, leaving 13 dead and 19 missing, according to the Office of Civil Defense.

Nanmadol, packing sustained winds of 185kph and gusts of up to 220kph, sliced through the northern half of the main island of Luzon before blowing out of the country toward Taiwan early on Friday.

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