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Storm disaster toll over 900--rescuers
Updated 06:04pm (Mla time) Dec 02, 2004
By Jason Gutierrez
Agence France-Presse

More than 900 people are dead or missing after a storm triggered landslides and floods in the Philippines this week, rescuers announced Thursday as a new and even more powerful typhoon approached the main island of Luzon.

Army rescuers listed 306 dead and 152 missing from this hapless town on the east coast of Luzon, which was flattened by floods and an avalanche of mud, logs and boulders from the Sierra Madre mountain range on Monday.

A total of 131 corpses have been found in the nearby town of General Nakar with about 100 residents still missing, while the town of Infanta yielded 47 dead with about 100 also missing, according to an army tally here.

The tally excludes 48 people who died and 38 listed as missing elsewhere on Luzon, home to nearly half the archipelago's population of 84 million.

Health Secretary Manuel Dayrit urged the hard-hit communities quickly to bury rotting corpses recovered from under the mud and floating on the coast and along swollen rivers, to prevent epidemics.

"As much as possible, the bodies should be buried as soon as possible," he said.

Lime has been sent to flood-hit communities to try to preserve some of the dead so they may be identified before burial but there may not be enough preservative to go around, he said.

Luzon braced for the fury of Typhoon "Yoyong" (international codename: Nanmadol) on Thursday as the cyclone killed one man on an outlying island, tore down power lines. and hampered rescuers trying to reach victims of Monday's storm.

The government suspended ferry services and grounded propeller-driven aircraft across Luzon, stranding several thousand passengers as Yoyong pummelled the eastern island of Catanduanes at mid-morning with peak winds of up to 220 kilometres (137 miles) an hour.

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo closed schools for the day and sent non-essential government staff home at midday. She put presidential helicopters at the disposal of rescuers.

She later boarded a van for a flying visit to the outskirts of Real, where she distributed relief goods to shell-shocked survivors. She left immediately as winds intensified and driving rain began to fall.

The Red Cross said Yoyong killed at least one person on Catanduanes. About 1,500 people from five other towns on the island sought shelter at government centers.

Meteorologists said the typhoon was expected to hit the east coast of Luzon on Thursday evening, with the eye passing close to Real.

The Air Force and Navy said air and sea rescue operations for the victims of the storm that hit Real and nearby areas on Monday were suspended due to high winds and low cloud cover.

Up to 30 percent of the military's planes or helicopters have been deployed for typhoon relief, said air force spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Restituto Padilla.

In northeastern Luzon small teams of infantrymen set out on foot to deliver food and medicine to hamlets buried by mud or marooned by floods.

Small teams of soldiers fanned out to the worst-hit villages and towns on foot. One team reached General Nakar before dawn after a 20-hour slog, fording swollen rivers and marching through mud-covered and debris-strewn roads, Padilla told Agence France-Presse.

"They are carrying some noodles, canned goods and others. If they meet any surviving victims along the way, they will give them relief packs on their way to Real and Infanta," said local rescue operations director Colonel Jaime Buenaflor.

Volunteers unearthed 97 bloated bodies from a beach house in the village of Tignoan on Real's outskirts. The victims were buried by mud from a nearby mountain on Monday.

More than 100 residents had sought refuge there to escape floodwaters.

"We are digging with spades and our bare hands" because heavy equipment could not get through due to collapsed bridges and roads buried by landslides, said their team leader Mario Nanola.

"There are no body bags available. The stench is unbearable," Nanola told Agence France-Presse. He said he heard from survivors that more bodies were afloat at the coast.

In the northern mountain resort of Baguio, panicked residents cleared grocery shelves before the arrival of Typhoon Nanmadol. Long queues were seen at bank cash dispensers.

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