- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 5, 2004

REAL, Philippines — Officials yesterday sought international help to rebuild villages ravaged by back-to-back storms that left 566 persons dead and 546 missing in mostly poor northern agricultural regions.

The two storms last week set off flash floods and landslides, destroying hundreds of houses, farms, roads and bridges. Damaged infrastructure hampered rescue and relief efforts in remote villages, officials said.

Social Welfare Secretary Corazon “Dinky” Soliman appealed for international help in “rebuilding water systems, toilets, livelihood in agriculture for people whose farmlands were buried in mud.”

Official figures released earlier said 640 persons had died in the storms, but the latest tally reduced the figure to 566.

Australia, the European Union, Japan, New Zealand and the United States, as well as U.N. agencies and the International Red Cross quickly responded with financial aid, transport and relief goods.

U.S. Ambassador Francis Ricciardone, who flew by helicopter yesterday to villages in the hard-hit eastern province of Quezon, said roads and bridges needed to be repaired immediately to allow relief goods to flow to isolated areas.

“The devastation was worse than I had imagined,” Mr. Ricciardone said. “It was quite distressing — logs everywhere, mud everywhere. Roads were cut off in many places and bridges were down.”

The United States offered to dispatch troops to undertake humanitarian help, including at least one helicopter for transport and a team of military damage-assessment analysts. The United States also donated 500 body bags, $200,000 and plastic shelter materials to the Philippine National Red Cross, he said.

Marie North, a spokeswoman for the International Federation of Red Cross, said the group is appealing for $1.7 million to buy emergency relief supplies.

Hundreds of villagers tried to leave hard-hit areas, including Real in Quezon. More than 400 people jammed a ferry capable of carrying 108 passengers. The coast guard allowed the ferry to sail to a nearby town after passengers agreed to get off.

Rosalie Salvidar, a 25-year-old cashier, stood at Real’s pier with her family’s muddied belongings — a small refrigerator, TV set, desktop computer, electric fan and three sacks of clothes. Log-laden mudslides had crushed their house in nearby Infanta.

Mrs. Salvidar said she and her family would return to their hometown in another Quezon town. “We don’t have a home now,” she said.

Most of the destruction was wrought by a tropical storm that blew through northeastern provinces late Monday, killing at least 529 persons and leaving 508 missing. Typhoon Nanmadol struck the same region late Thursday, leaving 37 dead and 38 missing, according to revised figures by the Office of Civil Defense.

Deforestation has stripped hillsides of vegetation that could have held mud and other debris in place. Many think years of illegal logging set off the landslides.

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