Hundreds feared dead as floods ravage Philippines

RUBEN ALABASTRO

Reuters

General Santos, Philippines - Fourteen people died and 500 are missing in the southern Philippines after flash floods believed to have been triggered by volcanic explosions crashed through surrounding villages, destroying hundreds of houses. The explosions caused an entire mountainside to slip into a lake inside the crater of Mount Parker, a volcano on Mindanao island, 600 miles south of Manila, which last erupted in 1640. The lake and nearby rivers, already swollen by days of heavy rain, burst their banks.

Scientists say they do not believe an eruption is under way at the 5,900ft Mount Parker, but asked for urgent government aid to help them find out what happened. Some experts said the landslide could have been triggered by continuous heavy rains in the area.

"The water flowing down the rivers was very hot and had boulders in it," said Dad Tuan, mayor of Tiboli, one of the worst-hit communities. Residents fleeing the scene reported smelling sulphur, but a vulcanologist, Ernesto Corpuz, explained that the area near any volcano would smell of sulphur, especially if the ground was broken, as in a landslide.

The deputy mayor of Tiboli, Salvador Ramos, said 14 bodies had been recovered but 500 people were believed to have been swept away. "All my family is gone," said one survivor, Hector Palabrica, 12. He was watching television at a neighbour's house when the floods arrived without warning: "The water was so high."

The raging waters forced thousands to flee their homes in Tiboli and three other towns downstream.

The regional police director, Cecilio Penilla, said about 100 families were reported to be stranded on rooftops and other high ground in several villages, and rescuers had a difficult time moving because roads were impassable. An estimated 50,000 acres of crops were flooded.

There are fears that if Mount Parker erupts, the disaster could be the worst since the eruption of Mount Pinatubo, 50 miles north of Manila, in 1991. One of the world's most powerful volcanic explosions this century, it killed nearly 1,000 people.

Mount Parker has long been regarded as dormant, although scientists have recently detected renewed activity. Vulcanologists have also warned of a possible eruption at Mayon, a volcano at the southern tip of the main Philippines island of Luzon, which last erupted in 1993, killing 60 people.

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