US Marines yesterday began helping relief operations in the Philip-pines following storms that have left more than 1,500 people dead as fears grew of a health crisis among survivors.
Two Seahawk helicopters arrived at an evacuation center in this northeastern coastal town, dropping off medicine, drinking water and food packs to hungry survivors left homeless by land-slides and floods since early last week.
They also airlifted children suffering from coughs and colds as well as an immobile elderly man on a stretcher, an AFP photographer at the scene said.
Much of Infanta remained covered in mud and hundreds of survivors crowded a school converted into an evacuation and medical center. Intermittent rain and high winds were hampering clean-up operations and threatening to ground air support.
Survivor Nenita Ruidera, 67, jostled for a kilo of rice which she said she would try to stretch for several days.
"I would have to make porridge with it so it would last long," she said.
Ruidera, along with her four children and four grandchildren, had survived the mudslides but said many remained sick and should be evacuated.
A detachment of 40 Marines from Okinawa in Japan arrived at the former US military base at Clark, 80km north of Manila, late Tuesday. They will be joined by another 560 Marines over the next few days, US Navy Captain Dennis Williams said.
He said the Marines would stay "for as long as the Philippine government wants them to."
As relief operations continued throughout much of devastated northern parts of Luzon island, two UN agencies warned of possible outbreaks of diarrhoea and malaria.
According to the World Health Organization and the UN Children's Fund, more than 10 children have died of diarrhoea or dysentery -- raising fears of further sickness and a possible outbreak of malaria due to the wet conditions and a lack of clean drinking water.
The Philippine government said it was not aware of the deaths. Health Secretary Manuel Dayrit said medical personnel, medicine and drinking water were being ferried to the disaster areas.
Access to the northeastern coastal areas of Real, Infanta and General Nakar -- hit hardest by the string of deadly storms that lashed the country last week -- remains difficult.
On Tuesday night two US C-130 Hercules transport aircraft arrived at Clark carrying tonnes of food and clothing for victims of the storms.
It is expected that 12 more US military helicopters from Okinawa will join the relief operations within the next few days.
A seven-man US "combat lifesaver team" has also arrived to help storm casualties.
"The relief and rehabilitation effort will not relent and will push on until every affected family can get back to its feet," President Gloria Arroyo said, as she ordered a special task force to prosecute within one month all illegal loggers blamed for the calamity.
Rain continued to make sea and air travel to the storm-hit towns difficult. Philippine authorities have been hoping that the better-equipped US helicopters will be able to brave the poor weather which their own UH-1H Hueys cannot handle.