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01 Dec 2004 12:55
A powerful typhoon is bearing down on the northeastern Philippines, where rescuers are battling to reach survivors from floods and landslides that have killed nearly 350 people.
Typhoon Nanmadol is expected to slam into the main island of Luzon on Thursday, hitting the region where another 150 people remain missing since entire villages were washed away by Tropical Storm Winnie two days ago.
The new typhoon is packing winds of 160km/ hour over the Pacific Ocean and is already bringing driving rain and strong winds to the stricken area, the government weather centre said.
The worst-hit coastal towns of Real, Infanta and General Nakar remained cut off by floodwaters and smashed bridges on Wednesday.
A deadly mix of logs and earth dislodged by heavy rain has buried parts of the three towns, rescuers and survivors told reporters.
Military officials warned that the death toll may increase as the flood waters are still rising and many people remain trapped.
Several thousand people are stranded on rooftops in Real, Infanta and Nakar, officials said.
Carlos Nolledo, district chief in Infanta, said in a television interview that “the whole town and its surrounding suburbs is full of mud”.
Nolledo said he saw about 50 people killed when an avalanche of water, mud and floating logs hit the town late on Monday.
Residents have blamed the flooding on illegal logging, and President Gloria Arroyo on Wednesday ordered a crackdown.
“Illegal logging must now be placed in the order of most serious crimes against our people,” she said.
Coastguard boats initially provided assistance but now only helicopters could be seen flying overhead, dropping relief goods from the air because they were unable to land, Nolledo said.
An AFP photographer who flew over the area aboard a military helicopter said only the roofs of houses and the tops of trees could be seen above the floodwaters, with logs and planks scattered everywhere.
Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman said her department had recorded 306 deaths in the three stricken towns—114 in Real, another 100 in Infanta and 92 in General Nakar.
Many of the dead and missing in Real came from a three-storey building at a beach resort that was being used as a makeshift evacuation centre when it collapsed at the height of the storm late on Monday, civil defence officials said.
President Arroyo, just home from a regional summit in Laos, called off plans to fly to the storm-hit areas after warnings that it was not safe for helicopters to fly.
Navy spokesperson Gerry Malabanan said Marines were battling waves and heavy rain in small boats to reach survivors in Real.
“We have brought food and suppplies to Real and our concern is really just to help,” he said.
Real remained unreachable by land as it was blocked by 17 landslides and four fallen bridges. Huge floating logs, washed down from the mountains, have caused massive destruction.
On the road to the three towns, soldiers used shovels and picks to try to clear the landslides but the rain and poor visibility hampered their efforts.
Some stunned residents managed to trek out of the area on foot, clambering over fallen bridges and landslide debris to catch buses to less-affected areas.
Provincial officials organised a group of volunteers who would travel by foot across the fallen bridges and debris to deliver relief goods.
Civil defence officials said they had already prepared over 200 body bags for the dead as soon as they reach the three towns.
Even as they raced to help the victims of the recent storm, relief officials also warned the public to prepare for the new typhoon which continued to move northwest at 35km/h.
The Philippines was already in mourning after typhoons Muifa and Merbok hit the country in late November leaving 167 people dead and missing. - Sapa-AFP
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