Philippines rushes to restore lifelines

Workers shifted tonnes of sand and volcanic rock on Wednesday to open up vital lifelines to isolated eastern Philippines hamlets days after mudslides left more than 1 200 dead and missing.

Restoring roads, electricity and telephone networks to bring help to desperate survivors is now the priority after the worst-affected Bicol peninsula in the Luzon region recovered and buried its dead from Typhoon Durian.

The strongest typhoon to hit the Philippines in living memory unleashed avalanches of volcanic debris which buried more than 700 villages around the Mayon volcano near here on Friday. The civil defence office put the typhoon toll at 543 dead and 740 missing.

In the village of Santo Domingo on the outskirts of this city, machines excavated a road buried in sand and volcanic rocks the size of cars.

The earthmover machines were swiftly followed by military trucks bearing relief goods and buses packed with anxious people returning to their obliterated villages.

The situation is growing desperate for survivors like grandmother Salvacion Solana, a 54-year-old storekeeper now selling rice cakes and boiled eggs at a makeshift stall beside the roof of her home jutting from the caked mud.

She told Agence France-Presse she had to walk several kilometres to Legaspi to buy the food she sold at a profit to construction crews.
Many of her surviving neighbours are going hungry, she added.

“If I did nothing we would starve to death,” she said.

Her husband, a chauffeur, could not go back to work because all the clothing he had left was shorts and a shirt.

The civil defence office said most of the Bicol still had no electricity.

It said the earliest target for restoring temporary power would be on Christmas eve, 18 days away. The cost for replacing the downed power pylons and lines was estimated at 795-million pesos ($16-million).

The office said the country had received pledges and deliveries of cash, tents, blankets, generators, water tanks and medicine from governments and charities around the world.

Typhoon Durian affected 1,6-million people and 1 765 villages, with some 84 000 seeking refuge at evacuation centres, mainly in the Bicol region.

Durian later weakened to a tropical storm and killed at least 55 people in Vietnam, where 26 more are still missing. - AFP

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