- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 3, 2006

DARAGA, Philippines — The Red Cross estimated yesterday that up to 1,000 people may have died in a typhoon that unleashed walls of black mud on entire villages in the Philippines, and the country’s president declared a state of national calamity.

Typhoon Durian struck the Philippines with winds reaching 165 mph and torrential rains on Thursday, causing ash and boulders from Mayon volcano on Luzon island to swamp villages around its base — leaving a scene Philippine Sen. Richard Gordon described yesterday as like a “war zone.”

Hopes of finding survivors beneath the volcanic mud, debris and boulders had virtually vanished. Bodies were buried in mass graves to prevent them from decomposing in the tropical heat.

Mr. Gordon, who heads the Philippine National Red Cross, said the death toll could reach 1,000 people.

“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.

The Red Cross has recorded at least 406 deaths, with 398 others missing, based on figures provided by mayors of devastated towns in the worst-hit Albay province. The government reported 324 deaths, with 302 missing and 438 injured.

The state of national calamity declared by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo will allow the government to rapidly release funds for search-and-rescue efforts. She was scheduled to fly for a second time to Albay province tomorrow, her spokesman said.

All but two dozen of the deaths occurred in Albay, with 165 in the flooded town of Guinobatan in the foothills of the Mayon volcano, about 200 miles southeast of Manila.

More than 50 tons of relief goods, medicine, body bags and other aid have been flown to the province by air force C-130 cargo planes, officials said.

Australia made an initial pledge of $780,000 in immediate humanitarian relief. Canada earlier donated $876,000, and Japan said it would send $173,000.

In Albay’s battered capital of Legazpi City, residents lined up yesterday to buy drinking water, gasoline and food. Panic gripped one community because of rumors of an impending tsunami, but officials quickly reassured people that no earthquakes had occurred.

Houses along the Yawa River in Padang, about seven miles from Legazpi, were buried under 5 feet of mud, with only their rooftops protruding. Some bodies had been washed out to sea, then swept by currents to the shores of an adjacent town.

Glenn Lorica, 22, said his family’s house in Albay’s Daraga town was destroyed by a torrent of mud, uprooted trees, rocks and debris. Seven members of his family were missing; only he and his younger sister are known to have survived.

He said he struggled to stay afloat in the rampaging mud flow by grabbing hold of trees while being battered by rocks and other debris. He removed his clothing to avoid being entangled in floating trees.

“I told myself that if I would die, so be it,” Mr. Lorica said from a hospital bed.

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