Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Philippine toll rises to 246 as new storms brew

MANILA, Philippines – Rescuers pulled more bodies from swollen rivers and debris-strewn streets Tuesday, pushing the toll from flooding in the northern Philippines to more than 284 dead or missing, while two new storms brewing in the Pacific threatened to complicate relief efforts.

Authorities ordered extra police to be deployed to prevent looting in communities abandoned by fleeing residents, as frustration rose among those who have lost their homes or belongings.

Queues of bedraggled victims grew long at hundreds of aid distribution centers as floodwaters subsided further and more people went in search of food, clean water, dry clothes and shelter.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's administration — sensitive to criticism it did not give sufficient warning of the deluge or was too slow to respond — conceded it was overwhelmed but said it was doing all it could to help.

The homes of nearly 1.9 million people in the capital and surrounding areas were inundated by flooding unleashed by Tropical Storm Ketsana at the weekend, the National Disaster Coordinating Council said. Nearly 380,000 people have sought shelter in schools, churches and other evacuation centers.

AP – A medical patient trapped during the flooding is evacuated by navy personnel after the floodwater subsides …

The council said 246 were confirmed dead late Tuesday, with 38 missing.

Officials appealed for international aid, warning they may not have enough resources to withstand two new storms forecasters have spotted east of the island nation in the Pacific Ocean. One could hit the northern Philippines later this week and the other early next week, although meteorologists say that could change.

Ketsana, which scythed across the northern Philippines on Saturday, dumped more than a month's worth of rain in just 12 hours, causing the country's worst flooding in 40 years. The storm strengthened into a typhoon mid-Monday and crashed into Vietnam's central coast on Tuesday, killing at least 23 people, officials there said. Some 170,000 people were evacuated from its path.

In the Philippines, authorities rescued more than 12,000 people, but unconfirmed reports of more deaths abound, Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro said.

Water that reached shoulder-depth in parts of the capital's streets on Saturday had subsided in many areas by Tuesday. People trudged through ankle-deep sludge to reach shelters where volunteers handed out bottles of water and other items. Elsewhere, people used shovels and brooms to begin mopping-up.

Many people complained the aid was too coming too slowly, and was not enough.

Arroyo said those who suffered had a right to complain but appealed to them to understand that the scale of the disaster was huge.

"We're responding to the extent we can to this once-in-a-lifetime typhoon emergency," she said in a statement issued Tuesday.

Arroyo opened part of the presidential palace as a relief center, where hundreds of people queued Tuesday for packets of noodles and other food donated by companies and individuals. At another center, Arroyo's executive chef cooked gourmet food for victims.

Arroyo and her Cabinet said they would donate two months' salary to the relief effort.

But conditions in many hard-hit areas remained squalid.

In the Bagong Silangan area in the capital, about 150 people sheltered on a covered basketball court that had been turned into a makeshift evacuation center for storm victims. People lay on pieces of cardboard amid piles of garbage and swarming flies, their belongings crammed into bags nearby.

Seventeen white wooden coffins, some of them child-sized, lined one part of the court. A woman wept quietly beside one coffin.

The storm left entire communities covered in mud, cars upended on city streets and power lines cut.

The government declared a "state of calamity" in metropolitan Manila and 25 storm-hit provinces, allowing officials to use emergency funds for relief and rescue. Arroyo would issue an executive order within the week declaring a national holiday as "clean up day," the palace said.

The United States has donated $100,000 and deployed a military helicopter and five rubber boats manned by about 20 American soldiers from the country's south, where they have been providing counterterrorism training. The United Nations Children's Fund and the World Food Program have also provided food and other aid.


Associated Press writer Jim Gomez contributed to this report.

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