Aid arrives for mudslide survivors

The first foreign aid flights of food and medicines arrived on Tuesday in the eastern Philippines, where officials said devastating mudslides have left more than 1 080 people dead or missing.

At first light two C-130 transport aircraft from Indonesia touched down in Legaspi City where disaster relief operations are being coordinated, carrying more than 12 tonnes of food and medicine.

The devastating torrents of mud and volcanic ash triggered by typhoon rains swallowed entire villages near Mount Mayon volcano last Thursday.

Survivors desperately picked through the thick deposit trying to find loved ones, but rescuers said the search was hopeless.

“The search for life is over,” said Daniel Fernandez, of the Spanish search and rescue team BUSF, after a sweep of the area around the village of Maipon, near the volcano, using dogs.

“There are no more survivors here.”

But typhoon Durian, now downgraded to a tropic storm, continued its deadly passage overnight, lashing the coast of southern Vietnam where officials said at least 12 people had died and more were missing.

In the Philippines, civil defence officials confirmed 450 dead around Mayon volcano in the Bicol region, southeast of Manila, and another 636 missing, for a total of 1 086.

Philippine President Gloria Arroyo was expected later in the day to inspect relief efforts and meet with survivors.

National disaster coordinating centre executive officer Glenn Rabonza said more than 1,14-million people had been affected by the disaster.

Rabonza said damage to property is estimated at more than 274-million pesos ($5,48-million).

The coordinating centre’s chief of operations Agnes Palacio told Agence France-Presse: “What we need now are medicines, temporary shelters like tents and food.

“We also need water containers and purifiers because we do not have sources of clean water.”

She said teams had been sent into the region to check for any outbreaks of diseases.“But so far, we have had no reports of outbreaks.”

Teams from the health department were making their way to villages to help deal with the dead.

Many unclaimed bodies have been buried in shallow graves but many more are still lying unrecovered.

Officials said that more than 1 500 villages in 100 municipalities and nine cities across the Bicol region were affected by the typhoon and mudslides.

They said 72 evacuation centres had been set up to care for the survivors. For those who lived through the disaster, there was heartaches as they dug for the bodies of family members.

In Maipon, Aljabar Mammah wept as he clawed through the grey soil where his home once stood, vainly hoping to find the bodies of his wife and baby son.

“Nobody had time to react. My wife and son were snatched from my arms and were gone in an instant,” he told AFP.

Rescuers say they have not detected any life, six days after the tragedy.

More foreign aid is due to arrive.
Malaysia has promised a C-130 plane with 20 tonnes of supplies, aid has come in from Japan and more is expected during Tuesday from Singapore.

Money donated by other nations has been sent either to the Red Cross or to relief organisations to buy tents which are being ferried to Legaspi.

Durian kills at least 23 in Vietnam

Meanwhile, at least 23 people died when Durian hit southern Vietnam, destroying boats and houses.

The storm ravaged southern coastal provinces, sank hundreds of boats moored on a remote island in the South China Sea and Tuesday swept across the Mekong delta region south of Ho Chi Minh City, killing at least eight, officials said.

Ten people died and two were missing in Ba Ria-Vung Tau east of the former Saigon, a province which has tourist resorts and offshore oil rigs, said Nguyen Ngoc Loc of the provincial flood and storm control committee.

The island of Phu Quy, 250km east of Ho Chi Minh City, suffered heavy damage as the storm swept through overnight, sinking hundreds of boats, uprooting trees and damaging houses, office buildings and schools.

“Phu Quy island suffered serious losses,” Deputy Fisheries Minister Nguyen Viet Thang told VTV. More than 800 moored boats sank in the port, 1 100 buildings lost their roofs and 90% of power poles were toppled, he said.

Two people were killed by falling trees in Binh Thuan province, to which the island belongs. The deaths were on land in La Di town, not on Phu Quy, said flood and storm official Ta Thi Niem, revising an earlier statement.

Three more people were killed to the north in the Phu Yen province, said Duong Van Huong of the Phu Yen storm and flood control committee.

In the Mekong delta province of Ben Tre, eight people were reported dead on Tuesday, said Tran Thi Luan, head of the provincial flood and storm control committee.

“We had evacuated 3 500 people,” she said. “If the evacuation had not happened, the toll would have become much higher. The storm was really strong.”

Luan said that by mid-morning “the weather seems to be better but we do not dare yet to tell people that the storm is over, because this is a really complicated storm.”

Officials in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam’s largest metropolis, and the seaside resort of Nha Trang said they had no immediate reports of casualties. - Reuters, AFP

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