Rescuers scramble to reach victims of Philippines storm
December 3, 2004
REAL, Philippines – Helicopters delivered food to survivors and picked up casualties Friday as flash floods began to recede in the northern Philippines, revealing the magnitude of a disaster triggered by back-to-back storms that killed more than 650 people and left nearly 400 missing.
Soldiers who reached an isolated Pacific Ocean village in Aurora province reported finding about 30 dead. In the worst-hit town of Real, in nearby Quezon province, TV images showed bodies buried under mud and debris with only the soles of their feet visible. Survivors described the stench of rotting bodies.
Some 170,000 have fled their homes for higher ground while health authorities urged local officials to bury the dead quickly to avoid disease.
President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo appealed to the nation to “come together … (and) reach out to those who need help.”
“We need one great heave to deliver the relief supplies, find the missing, rescue the isolated, feed the hungry and shelter the homeless,” Arroyo said in a televised statement.
The brunt of the devastation was wrought by a tropical storm that blew through northeastern provinces on late Monday, killing at least 527 people, military Chief of Staff Gen. Efren Abu said Friday.
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Hardest hit was Quezon province, where 484 bodies have been recovered and 352 people were still missing, he said.
Typhoon Nanmadol then struck the same region late Thursday.
About 100 people were found dead in the coastal village of Dumingan, about 60 miles northeast of Manila, Maj. Gen. Romeo Tolentino told ABS-CBN TV. It was unclear where they died in Monday’s storm or the typhoon.
“Our soldiers now are helping the populace to recover the survivors and bury the dead,” said Tolentino, the regional military commander.
He said landslides were blocking the road to the village.
“There were landslides and our civilians were going hungry,” he said. “Some were wet. So they are really pitiful.”
The Catholic relief organization Caritas International appealed for $200,000 for emergency relief for families hurt by the typhoon. The appeal would provide relief for 3,000 families in need of food, medicine and clothing and financial assistance.
The typhoon claimed at least 30 lives in Aurora province, including 25 in a landslide, the Office of Civil Defense reported.
In Real, Mayor Arsenio Ramallosa said there was little damage from the typhoon, but that the Monday storm left scores of dead and missing.
“We have been severely devastated,” he said. “Our food supply is dwindling and good for only another three days.”
He said a building at a beach resort, where about 100 people sought shelter during the storm, collapsed when it was hit by a landslide. Most of the people were still buried, but one man was excavated alive early Friday, he said.
Aiviem Payubay, 17, said she and her six siblings shouted for help when the flood and mudslides hit late Monday, “but it was raining so hard, nobody could hear us.”
She said she put her brothers and sisters on the top of a bunk bed, but when the water turned brown, she panicked and decided to move to the roof, then sought shelter in a relative’s house when the waters receded.
Friday, they were reunited with their father, Manila policeman Ronaldo Payubay, 41, who walked from Real’s outskirts in howling winds and pounding rain through chest-deep mud. He carried 10 pounds of rice, 3 packs of instant noodles and 2 cans of sardines for his six children, the youngest 11 months old.
“In all the places I passed through, somebody was being buried,” Payubay said. He said there were no coffins, and bodies were just put in shallow graves.
With improved weather, military helicopters on Friday began landing in Real. But each time one landed, swarms of villagers tried to climb aboard to flee, only to be shooed away by soldiers. Authorities wanted the sick and wounded to be given priority in evacuations.
Nanmadol made landfall late Thursday with sustained winds of 115 mph and gusts of up to 138 mph. It hit the northern half of the main island of Luzon at 21 mph before veering north toward Taiwan early Friday.