Philippine mudslides a 'calamity'

Philippine President Gloria Arroyo has declared a national calamity following devastating mudslides which have left hundreds of people dead or missing.

The Red Cross has put the death toll from Thursday's tragedy at 406, with 398 missing, but the aid organisation said the toll could pass 1,000.

Hopes of finding many more survivors are fading.

The mudslides, triggered by the heavy rains of Typhoon Durian, struck near the Mayon volcano south-east of Manila.

Mrs Arroyo released 1bn pesos ($20m, 10m) for reconstruction work and vowed further efforts to find survivors.

"All resources of the government will continue to be mobilized without let-up as we pin hope against hope on the search of survivors," she said in a statement.

Thick sludge

The relief effort is progressing slowly, with soldiers having to walk for hours to reach affected areas.

Whole villages were engulfed by mud that poured from the slopes of the volcano, some 350km (220 miles) from Manila.

The head of the local Red Cross, Richard Gordon, said the number of victims could well rise.

"There are many unidentified bodies. There could be a lot more hidden below. Whole families may have been wiped out," he told the Associated Press news agency.

The BBC's Sarah Toms, in the Philippines, says people have been using their bare hands to pull bodies from the thick sludge.

About 100 miners have arrived to help with rescue efforts and army commanders have asked for dog teams to help with the search.

The first funerals were carried out late on Saturday, as bodies decomposed in the heat.

Some victims were buried in a mass grave as a precaution against the spread of disease.

"We opted to do this because we might have an epidemic, which could be expected because of the high number of evacuees and homeless," local official Gene Villareal told AP.

Foreign help

Officials say more than 40,000 people have been displaced.

Many of the survivors, who have lost not only their homes but their livelihoods after fruit trees and rice paddies were destroyed, have crammed into makeshift shelters in schools and churches.

Disaster agencies say there is an urgent need for fresh water, food and medicine for the survivors, and more body bags.

Canada has pledged more than US$800,000 to help the relief effort and Japan says it will give more than $170,000.

Durian - named after a spiky Asian fruit - was the fourth typhoon to hit the Philippines in the last three months.


Bron : BBC News

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