Typhoon Durian leaves 1,000 dead in Philippines chaos

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The Independent Online

President Gloria Arroyo declared a state of national calamity yesterday as the Philippines began taking stock after Typhoon Durian, which pummelled the the country last Thursday triggering landslides that are feared to have killed more than 1,000 people.

Hope of finding more survivors was fading by the hour as rescuers struggled to reach affected areas.

Whole villages and farming communities - mainly in Albay province south-east of the capital Manila - were left buried under tons of black, suffocating sludge. A spokesperson for the Red Cross, Richard Gordon, last night put the estimate at over 1,000 dead, describing the scenes as that of a war zone. "There are many unidentified bodies. There could be a lot more hidden below. Whole families may have been wiped out," he said. The Red Cross put the death toll at 406, with a further 398 others missing.

Farmlands in the area are said to have been the worst hit with no survivors having been pulled from the mud and debris alive. Rescue workers were pessimistic that anyone buried would now be found alive.

After surveying the blackened wasteland, David Quintana, a Spanish rescue volunteer, said: "If it would be like this, chances are zero because you cannot breathe, there is no air."

Torrential rain and winds of up to 165mph had first hit the Mayon volcano four days ago, dislodging ash and boulders which caused walls of black sludge to cascade down its slopes, engulfing entire villages, even taking people out to sea.

One survivor, Glenn Lorica, 22, said his family's house in Albay's Daraga town was wiped out by a torrent of mud, uprooted trees, rocks and debris, sweeping him and loved ones away.

Lying badly injured on a hospital bed in Legazpi, he recalled the nightmarish ordeal that only he and a younger sister survived.

"I told myself that if I would die, so be it," Mr Lorica said, recalling how he struggled to stay afloat in the rampaging mud flow by grabbing hold of trees while being battered by rocks and other debris. Seven other members of Mr Lorica's family - his father, mother, two sisters, an uncle and a niece - are still missing.

Fernando Gonzales, governor of Albay province, said a six-foot high wall of water had crashed down from the volcano. "We haven't seen anything like this perhaps in hundreds of years. We lost everything."

More than 100 miners arrived to help locate survivors as President Arroyo announced yesterday she would be releasing 1bn pesos (£10m) for reconstruction work, vowing further efforts to aid rescue missions.

Canada has so far pledged more than US $800,000 (£404,000) and Japan says it will give more than $170,000 (£86,000). There is an urgent need for fresh water, food and medicine as well as body bags.

Many victims have been buried in mass graves as a precaution against the spread of disease.

Aid officials used helicopters to survey the worst affected areas and estimated more than 40,000 people have been displaced.

Typhoon Durian - named after a pungent, spiky fruit, loathed by foreign tourists but seen as a delicacy by locals - is the fourth to hit the country in as many months.

The World Meteorological Association had reported a moderate increase in sea surface temperature across the South Pacific region which is known as the El Niño phenomenon, which occurs every three to seven years, producing wildly erratic weather conditions.

The storm destroyed 28,119 houses and damaged 91,430 in eight provinces, a government agency said. The typhoon affected 832,549 people and led to the evacuation of more thn 44,000 in 12 provinces. Most of the provinces the storm passed through are among the country's main coconut producers. The Philippines is the world's biggest exporter of coconut oil.

Since 1991, floods and landslides triggered by typhoons have displaced about one million families and killed at least 10,000 people, according to the website of the Haribon Foundation, a Philippine environmental group.