Wed, Dec 08, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Philippine officials appeal for international assistance


Relief workers battled rain and choppy seas yesterday to deliver food and medicine to the country's northeast following devastating back-to-back storms that killed at least 568 people and left hundreds more missing.

The mayor of Real, one of the three coastal towns worst hit by flash floods and mudslides last week, said at least three mountain villages remain isolated from rescuers, though they were not believed to be as severely affected.

Philippine officials have appealed for international aid, but the bad weather and damaged infrastructure were hampering relief efforts.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has blamed illegal logging for exacerbating the floods, and said those responsible would be prosecuted like hardened criminals. She also imposed a moratorium on logging.

Real and the nearby towns of Infanta and General Nakar, about 70km east of Manila, were accessible only by boats and helicopters. Ships were unable to reach far-flung villages because of floating debris, and rubber boats ferried relief goods from ship to shore.

"What we need are food, water and medicine, plus temporary shelter," Mayor Arsenio Ramallosa said. "Tents and even tarpaulins will do. Thankfully, we have had continuous flow of relief supplies and those that run out are being replenished."

He said workers clearing roads that were blocked by landslides were slowly making their way to Real, but he was told by engineers that large boulders may have to be blasted with explosive.

He said at least 250 people have been counted dead in Real, but that dozens more bodies were buried in a building that collapsed under a mudslide.

Most of the destruction was wrought by a tropical storm that blew through northeastern provinces Nov. 29, killing at least 530 people and leaving 607 missing. Typhoon Nanmadol struck the same region three days later, leaving 38 dead and 33 missing, according to the Office of Civil Defense.

In Infanta, next to Real, residents appealed to authorities to be allowed to leave on rescue helicopters delivering food aid. But casualties were given priority seats.

Mildred delos Santos tried unsuccessfully to get her 78-year-old mother, who is suffering from hypertension, and 10-year-old daughter on a helicopter to Manila. She said they saved themselves from debris-laden floodwaters by breaking a hole through their roof and getting on top of their house.

"It was terrible. We saw one family of about 15 cling to a tree, but the tree was also washed away by the flood. They died," she said. "They were pitiful. Those people were shouting for help but we could not do anything. We were on the roof."

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