Death toll after back-to-back typhoons tops 600; crews try to reopen roads
The Associated Press, Oct . 10, 2009
MANILA, Philippines - Rescuers dug out six survivors and more bodies buried under landslides that killed at least 225 people in the storm-soaked northern Philippines, as workers rushed Saturday to clear mountain roads to aid relief efforts.
U.S. military helicopters were on standby to help the Philippine air force deliver aid to areas cut off by road as flooded highways hampered the search for people trapped in houses buried by mud. Several choppers flew over areas Saturday where U.S. troops planned to conduct medical missions and deliver supplies.
The rain-triggered landslides late Thursday and early Friday were the latest natural disaster to hit the Philippines, bringing to more than 600 the total death toll of back-to-back storms that began pummeling the main island of Luzon Sept. 26, causing the worst flooding in more than 40 years.
Rescue operations were centered on two vast areas — the severely flooded Pangasinan province northwest of Manila, and a swath covering the worst landslide-hit provinces of Benguet, Mountain Province and the resort city of Baguio, where most of the deaths occurred.
A 17-year-old boy was rescued from the rubble in his home in Baguio late Friday, and five others were pulled out alive in Mountain Province, said regional civil defense official Olive Luces.
Hoping for more survivors
On Saturday, only more bodies were pulled from under tons of mud and rocks, but Luces said, "We are hopeful that we will get more people alive."
She said local officials reported 152 bodies have so far been recovered in Benguet and 23 in Mountain Province in the country's Cordillera region on the main Philippine island of Luzon after landslides. She corrected an earlier figure of 60 bodies recovered in Baguio city, saying officials reported only 50 had been found.
Aside from the 197 who died in the landslides late Thursday and early Friday, the National Disaster Coordinating Council said 51 people from eight other provinces also were killed after Typhoon Parma made landfall Oct. 3, weakened into a tropical depression and dumped more rain as it lingered over the northern region for about 10 days.
A week earlier, Tropical Storm Ketsana left 337 people dead in the worst floods to hit Manila and nearby provinces in four decades.
The sun was peeking through the clouds over Baguio and volunteers, mostly miners, were taking advantage of the relatively good weather to step up the search for survivors, Luces said. She also called on local communities to help clear debris blocking the roads.
Army engineers were trying to remove mounds of mud and boulders on one road to Baguio. The regional center has been isolated since Thursday's landslides. The Public Works Department was clearing debris on another highway to the city, but an 82-foot of that mountain road had been washed away, cutting off all traffic, she said.
Mayor Artemio Galwan of La Trinidad township in Benguet province said 78 bodies have been recovered there. He appealed for shovels and other tools as well as portable spotlights to allow volunteers to continue digging at night.
He said the rains and landslides devastated crops in his area, regarded as the country's "salad bowl" for its vegetable farms and strawberry fields.
More caskets needed
Benguet Gov. Nestor Fongwan told ABS-CBN television his province needed more embalmers and caskets for the large number of dead.
Water was receding from low-lying provinces south of the Cordillera region, but most of the rice-growing province of Pangasinan northwest of Manila was still submerged. In the provincial capital of Dagupan, floodwater was about waist deep.
The USS Harpers Ferry and USS Tortuga were anchored in the Lingayen Gulf in Pangasinan, where more than 200 Marines and sailors were ready to deploy for rescue and relief operations, U.S. Marine Capt. Jorge Escatell said.
U.S. troops trucked tons of food from the U.N. World Food Program from Manila to a Philippine military camp in Tarlac province adjacent to Pangasinan for distribution by American troops on Sunday, said Escatell from Houston, Texas.
Marine CH-46 helicopters also flew over the flood-ravaged region to assess the damage and find locations for a medical mission and food distribution. Heavy equipment also will be brought in to help clear the roads littered with debris, he said.
"The focus is on the Cordillera," said Philippine military spokesman Lt. Col. Romeo Brawner. "The roads are impassable and the only way to reach Baguio is through air."
He said the helicopters will try to penetrate the fog-shrouded mountains to drop off supplies at the Baguio airport, from where they can be distributed by land.
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
Deluge in rain-soaked Philippines buries 160
Latest landslides, back-to-back storms push death toll to nearly 500
The Associated Press, Oct . 9, 2009
MANILA, Philippines - Driving rain on the heels of back-to-back storms triggered dozens of landslides across the northern Philippines on Friday, burying more than 160 people, washing away villages and leaving almost an entire province under water.
The latest deluge brought the death toll to nearly 500 from the Philippines' worst flooding in 40 years after storms started pounding the country's north on Sept. 26.
More than 160 people were killed in landslides in Benguet and Mountain Province along the Cordillera mountain range, about 125 miles north of Manila, officials said. Residents were jolted awake by the rumbling sound of mudslides and floodwaters tearing apart the saturated soil and washing away homes.
Rescuers wading through sloshy mud from nearby Bagiuo city retrieved at least 162 bodies, bringing the total deaths in the two provinces since Typhoon Parma struck on Saturday to 174, said regional disaster relief officer Rex Manuel. At least 48 others were missing and 120 were pulled out alive.
Nearly the entire village of Kibungan in Benguet was buried under tons of mud and debris, Manuel said. Some 45 bodies were recovered so far. Rescuers used pulleys and cables to transport the dead they retrieved from piles of rubble.
TV footage showed the bodies arriving in black bags in a hall in Baguio, where relatives wept after recognizing their loved ones.
"There was a sudden rumble above us, and then the houses at the bottom were gone, including them," said Melody Coronel, pointing to the relatives she found among the dead.
In Mountain Province, 15 bodies were retrieved while 20 people were missing from a village in Tadian township, Manuel said.
Landslides blocked the roads to the mountain city of Baguio, where 48 people died, in the heart of the Cordillera region. The only way to reach the isolated, mountain communities was by foot, and military helicopters could not fly yet because of fog and rain, said Lt. Col. Ernesto Torres of the government's disaster-relief agency.
"We are focused on rescue at this time," he said. "It is raining nonstop in the Cordilleras."
About 100 landslides have struck the region since the weekend.
In Benguet province's Buyagan village, only three out of about 100 houses remained visible after Thursday night's landslide buried most structures there. Some 50 residents were saved and seven bodies recovered, Manuel said.
Thousands rescued from rooftops
As the mountain region struggled with the rescue operation, farther to the south, in Pangasinan province, pounding rains prompted authorities to discharge excess water from swollen dams. The deluge caused the Agno River and surrounding dikes to burst their banks, inundating 30 out of 48 towns, a scene of mayhem that sent residents onto rooftops, scrambling for safety.
Better weather allowed the Philippine coast guard and U.S. Navy helicopters to pluck people marooned on the roofs and treetops.
In Rosales, also in Pangasinan province, the biggest mall in town was flooded by neck-deep waters that sent appliances floating and smashing through glass panels. Some residents were seen carrying some of the goods away.
About 1,000 people remained stranded in the mall as night fell Friday. Others whose houses were flooded retreated to higher floors or were staying with relatives and neighbors.
Forecasters said Parma, which was downgraded to a tropical depression, was still lingering off the northeastern coast. It hit land more than a week ago, the second major storm to drench the country in two weeks. Tropical Storm Ketsana, which struck Sept. 26, left 337 people dead, most of them in and around Manila.
The government's disaster relief agency said it had asked the U.S. Embassy to redeploy hundreds of American troops from the massive cleanup in Manila to the flood-hit areas in the north. The U.S. government doubled its aid pledges to $4.3 million.
Two U.S. Navy ships were positioning in the Lingayen Gulf in Pangasinan to provide helicopters and rubber boats for the rescue mission, said U.S. Marine Capt. Jorge Escatell.
Six U.S. Navy CH-46 transport helicopters were on standby at Clark Air Base and two more were at a Philippine military camp in nearby Tarlac province, Torres said.
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.