| Wednesday, December 01, 2004
Decades of illegal logging blamed for storm's high death toll (2:07 p.m.)
MANILA -- Decades of illegal logging have made flash floods and landslides deadlier, officials said Wednesday following a rainstorm that killed nearly 340 people, promising to put a stop to rampant deforestation.
Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman said the powerful storm, which hit the country's east shortly after a typhoon ravaged the same area last week, caused so much death and destruction because there was no forest cover to hold mudslides that washed away roads, bridges and submerged whole towns.
"The real culprit is really the mud and the landslides," Soliman said. "The rains caused the flash floods, yes, but the soil could not hold up the water in the mountains."
The government's chief weather forecaster, Frisco Nilo, said the soil in the foothills of Sierra Madre, facing the Pacific Ocean, was already saturated with water from the previous typhoon when heavy rains loosened the earth and caused it to tumble down.
Officials said many of the victims died after being washed away by swiftly cascading soil and logs late Monday, when most residents were asleep.
President Arroyo on Wednesday ordered the military and police to crack down on illegal logging, which has caused deforestation in the past decades and has been exacerbated by a rapidly growing population and urbanization.
A recent US-funded project concluded that the Philippines was losing more than 100,000 hectares (247,100 acres) of forest every year. Other experts say less than 3 percent of the country's primary forest remains intact.
"Illegal logging must now be placed in the order of most serious crimes against our people," Arroyo said in a statement. "The series of landslides and flash floods that hit several parts of the country should serve as a wake-up call for us to join hands in preserving and stepping up reforestation."
Environment Secretary Michael Defensor promised an investigation into illegal logging.
"We have been criticizing illegal logging for a long time. We should not have waited for a tragedy like this," Vice President Noli de Castro said in a statement.
He lamented that people have not learned from 1991 floods that killed about 6,000 in Ormoc, in the central province of Southern Leyte, and which were made worse by logging. (AP)