Friday, October 09, 2009

Philippine mudslides, floods kill estimated 100

By TERESA CEROJANO, Associated Press Writer

MANILA, Philippines – Dozens of landslides in the rain-soaked mountains of the northern Philippines killed an estimated 100 people, as a lingering storm and excess water from dams turned a portion of one province into "one big river," officials said Friday.

The latest calamity brought the death toll to more than 400 from the Philippines' worst flooding in 40 years after back-to-back storms started pounding the country's north Sept. 26.

About 100 people were feared dead in landslides in two provinces — Benguet and Mountain — along the Cordillera mountain range, about 125 miles (200 kilometers) north of Manila, said Olive Luces, regional Office of Civil Defense director.

Landslides blocked the roads to the mountain city of Baguio in the heart of the Cordillera region and exact figures were hard to get.

"We are still accounting, but all in all our estimate is there were about 100 dead in the four major landslides," Luces said. "Retrieval operations are ongoing."

About 100 landslides have struck the region since the weekend, said Rex Manuel, another relief official.

Seventeen bodies have been recovered so far from Kibungan village in Benguet's La Trinidad township, which was almost entirely buried in mud and debris late Thursday, Manuel said. Up to 40 villagers were estimated to have died, while more than 100 were moved to safety, he said.

In Buyagan village, also in La Trinidad, only three out of about 100 houses remained visible after Thursday night's landslide buried most structures there. Some 50 residents were saved but it was not clear how many died, Manuel said.

In neighboring Mountain Province's Tadian township, at least 28 people were reported missing and several bodies were recovered after the side of a mountain collapsed.

Another landslide hit a second village in Tadian early Friday. No immediate casualty reports were available.

Forecasters said Tropical Depression Parma was still lingering off the northeastern coast for more than a week, dumping rains overnight. It was the second major storm to hit the country in two weeks.

Thousands of residents of Pangasinan province, about 105 miles (170 kilometers) north of Manila, fled to rooftops and scrambled for safety after dams released excess water from recent heavy rains.

Pangasinan provincial Vice Gov. Marlyn Primicias said she was getting frantic text messages from residents asking to be rescued, adding: "Eastern Pangasinan has become one big river."

Heavy rains, plus water discharged late Thursday night from a dam in Pangasinan, inundated 30 out of 46 towns along the Agno River in the coastal province, said Boots Velasco, the province's information officer.

"There was really heavy rain, so water had to be released from the dam, otherwise it would have been more dangerous," said the government's chief forecaster Nathaniel Cruz. "Even our office was flooded and our staff had to move to the rooftop. It's near the river that they were monitoring."

Heavy army trucks could not penetrate the area, and Primicias appealed for helicopters and boats to move people out of danger.

Mayor Nonato Abrenica of the Pangasinan's Villasis township said rain and water released from a nearby dam caused floods to rise quickly, isolating his town. He asked for food, water and medicines to be airlifted and for boats to rescue stranded residents.

The government's disaster relief agency said it had requested that the U.S. Embassy redeploy hundreds of American troops from the massive cleanup in and around the capital, Manila, to the flood-hit areas in the north.

Two U.S. Navy ships were positioning in the Lingayen Gulf in Pangasinan to provide helicopters and rubber boats for the rescue mission in the province, said U.S. Marine Capt. Jorge Escatell. ___

Associated Press writers Hrvoje Hranjski and Oliver Teves in Manila and Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo contributed to this report.

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