Philippine floods kill 306

By Erik de Castro

QUEZON PROVINCE, Philippines (Reuters) - More than 300 people have died after flash floods and landslides devastated three coastal towns and left swathes of the northern Philippines under water.

The death toll was expected to rise on Tuesday as rescuers were unable to reach areas cut off by huge mudslides and fast-moving floodwater in the wake of tropical depression Winnie and as the country braced for another powerful storm.

At least 306 people died in the towns of Real, Infanta and General Nakar in Quezon province, about 50 miles east of Manila, Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman told television.

Soliman said 150 people were still missing in Real, where witnesses said a torrent of logs and mud had swept down from the Sierra Madre mountains during Monday night's downpour.

Rampant illegal logging has been blamed for leaving towns vulnerable to landslides, a factor in several disasters in recent years.

"We think that illegal logging can be one of the main reasons why floods affected those towns," said Jayjay Suarez, vice governor of Quezon province.

The National Disaster Coordinating Committee said at least 21 people were killed in other provinces in the main northern island of Luzon.

Armand Balilo, a spokesman for the coastguard, said that 12 people rescued from Real were in critical condition.

"The critically wounded had fractured legs, with pieces of wood piercing their legs. Some had lacerations on their bodies," he said.

A spokesman for President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo said she would return early from a summit of Southeast Asian nations in Laos on Tuesday night to help coordinate the rescue operations.

The floods came just a week after storms left about 160 dead or missing, stretching the country's poorly equipped rescue services and military.

Winnie moved into the South China Sea, but a more powerful storm was on course to hit the country on Thursday and was gathering strength as it approached the east coast.

"A new typhoon is headed in our direction," Defence Secretary Avelino Cruz told reporters, referring to tropical storm Nanmadol. "This one is much stronger and has a wider coverage than the one that hit Quezon province."

BRIDGES DESTROYED

Officials said rescue efforts were being hampered by landslides blocking roads and a lack of helicopters.

The three worst affected towns were inaccessible by road and the army grounded its helicopters in the afternoon as fresh rain made conditions dangerous.

"It's unbelievable how the rescuers have been unable to reach these areas because the bridges have been broken down and there are very strong currents they are dealing with so the rubber boats also cannot go through," said Soliman.

One helicopter was forced to make an emergency landing in deep floodwater after it was caught in a downdraft, but the crew were rescued, a military official said. Television pictures showed bridges in Quezon province smashed by a tide of mud.

Hundreds of families lost their homes in Marikina City in Manila, and Montalban in Rizal province.

"It's painful to lose your home. We don't have anywhere to go. We need help," Quirino Florida, a flood victim in Marikina, told Reuters.

Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap said he expected damage to crops to be minimal as most rice farmers in northern Luzon island, the main rice-growing area, had already harvested this season's crop.

About 20 typhoons lash the Philippines every year. The most destructive in recent times was Thelma, which struck Leyte island in November 1991 and unleashed floods in Ormoc City that drowned about 5,000 people.

30/11/2004

Bron : Reuters

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