Tue, Dec 07, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Scores flee in storm-tossed Philippines

ONGOING DISASTER Exhausted residents of villages hit by recent floods and landslides surged onto ferries to flee to safer ground, as deadly cobras swarmed into one town

AP , Real, Philippines

Scores of exhausted residents crowded onto ferries yesterday to escape villages ravaged by flash floods and landslides and to search for food and medicines after back-to-back storms left more than 1,100 people either dead or missing.

At least 566 people were dead and 546 missing in last week's storms, officials said. Hundreds of houses, farms, roads and bridges in the country's northeast were swept away by floods and mud, and damaged infrastructure has hampered rescue efforts and the flow of relief goods to far-flung villages.

Sporadic rain and low clouds early yesterday grounded a Philippine air force rescue fleet, spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Restituto Padilla said.

In Real, one of three worst-hit towns in Quezon province, scores of people scrambled at a pier for a place on a ferry going to Manila. The ferry has a capacity of about 100 passengers, but it was soon overwhelmed by perhaps three times as many. The captain tried in vain to turn back the throng.

Jenny Martirez, who traveled with her husband and one-year-old child, said their house in nearby Infanta town was buried under almost a meter of mud.

"There is nothing there. No food, no water. All you can see is mud everywhere," she said, adding her only hope was to reach Manila.

Meanwhile, medical teams yesterday rushed anti-venom vaccines to one Philippine town ravaged by landslides and flashfloods amid rising incidence of snake bites, an official said.

Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman said local officials have reported that deadly cobras swarmed in General Nakar town in Quezon province, 75km east of Manila.

"The Philippine cobra reared its ugly head because they were disturbed," she said. "People have found that cobras were all over General Nakar."

General Nakar was one of three towns in Quezon badly hit by the recent storms.

Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman appealed to foreign governments for help.

"The appeal we're now making is in rehabilitation," Soliman said on Sunday. "That really means rebuilding water systems, toilets, livelihood in agriculture for people whose farmlands were buried in mud."

US Ambassador Francis Ricciardone, who flew by helicopter on Sunday to flood-stricken Quezon villages, said roads and bridges needed to be repaired immediately to allow relief goods to flow to isolated areas.

"The devastation was worse than I had imagined," Ricciardone said. "It was quite distressing, logs everywhere, mud everywhere, roads were cut off in many places and bridges were down."

Most of the destruction was wrought by a tropical storm that blew through northeastern provinces on Nov. 29, killing at least 529 people and leaving 508 missing. Typhoon Nanmadol struck the same region late on Thursday, leaving 37 dead and 38 missing, according to revised figures by the Office of Civil Defense.

Washington offered to dispatch troops for humanitarian help. On Sunday, two HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopters from a nearby US ship delivered food and a team of experts to assess damage. The US also donated US$200,000, 500 body bags and shelter materials to the Philippine Red Cross.

President Gloria Arroyo banned logging in the Philippines after rampant deforestation was blamed for much of the devastation.

Likening illegal loggers to terrorists, drug traffickers and kidnappers, Arroyo called for harsher penalties for anyone convicted of environmental destruction in several eastern provinces.

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