Philippine typhoon toll may hit 1,000

Sunday, December 3, 2006

Philippine president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo declared a state of national calamity Sunday in the wake of Typhoon Durian, allowing the government to more rapidly release funds needed to bolster search and rescue efforts. Relief efforts in the Philippines faced delays Sunday for survivors, as fears grew of a rising death toll in the archipelago nation from last week's storm.

Red Cross officials recorded a death toll of at least 406, with 398 others missing and another 489 as injured, based on figures provided by mayors of devastated towns in the eastern Philippines, where Durian hit with 139 mph winds and torrential rains on Thursday.

Canada pledged $870,000 and the Netherlands Red Cross pledged $53,000 to help the country deal with the aftermath of the storm that triggered massive flooding and volcanic mudslides. The United States also promised an undetermined amount of aid.

Many provinces lost power, making communication virtually impossible. In one of the worst hit provinces, Albay, two villages were buried by volcanic mudslides and volunteers were working to recover bodies from the wreckage.

According to the Red Cross, rescue boats were used to survey the damage and take people to the 305 evacuation centers. The Red Cross estimated about 66,616 people were now homeless based upon the number of homes destroyed in the wake of Durian.

Earlier, the National Disaster Coordinating Council said 38,473 displaced people were in evacuation shelters.

Often hit by storms

The Philippines' location in the northwestern Pacific puts it right in the pathway of the world's top typhoon generator, according to meteorologists. Durian is the fourth devastating typhoon to strike the Philippines in the past four months, covering the Mayon volcano with so much wind and rain that ash and boulders cascaded down its slopes in walls of black mud that swamped entire villages Thursday.

Hemmed in by geography and poverty, the Philippines has tried to minimize the damage caused by the 20 or so typhoons that hit the sprawling archipelago every year. Nationwide in 2001-05, 2,892 people were killed and 909 others went missing in typhoons and other storms, which caused damage totaling US$521 million, says the National Disaster Coordinating Council.

Anthony Golez, the council's deputy chief, notes that the estimate doesn't include losses to employment and other economic opportunities, and that Filipinos should be "bombarded" with disaster information, including stories of the Indian Ocean tsunami two years ago and the February 2006 landslide in the central Philippine village of Guinsaugon that killed more than 1,000.

Senator Richard Gordon, who heads the Philippine National Red Cross, said better planning is needed. "The big problem here in our country is we don't plan our communities. It's every man for himself."