Millions left homeless as floods sweep across Asia

HUNDREDS OF people have been drowned and millions more made homeless by storms and floods that have swept across East Asia.

In China, the International Federation of the Red Cross said yesterday it will launch an appeal to help some 66 million people whose homes and livelihoods have been threatened by the breaching of the Yangtze River. In the Philippines capital, Manila, rescuers were picking through the remains of a housing estate where dozens of people still lie buried under a muddy landslide.

Authorities in North and South Korea, Thailand and Vietnam were clearing up the wreckage of the past few days, while preparing for further storms. "The fear is that due to the length of the flood season, we haven't seen the worst of it yet," said Jim Robertson, a Red Cross official in the Chinese capital, Peking.

So far the floods have not matched the destruction caused last year, when 4,100 people died in China alone. But the breadth of the area affected has raised speculation about the origins of the rains, which appear to be connected to the El Nino weather phenomenon that caused widespread drought in the region two years ago.

Yesterday, the most wretched scenes were to be found near Manila, where more than 50 houses, constructed on a hillside east of the city, were hit by a landslide and "collapsed like an accordion", in the words of the Defence Secretary, Orlando Mercado. The landslide in Manila's eastern district of Antipolo tore down part of a hillside housing estate, burying dozens of people and raising to at least 44 the death toll in the country's worst floods in years, officials said.

At least nine bodies were recovered and 31 people were rescued alive by emergency crews picking through the mud and broken masonry. Up to 50 people were still missing. Already, accusations of shoddy construction were being levelled at the site's Japanese developer.

"We must focus on the search and rescue," Mr Mercado said after inspecting the disaster area. "Later there will be time to look into why these things are happening." The Philippines has not had weather like this for 25 years.

President Joseph Estrada declared a state of emergency in four provinces on Tuesday after the La Mesa dam, which supplies Manila with its drinking water, overflowed.

Apart from floods and landslides, five people were electrocuted after severed power cables fell into flood waters. More than 80,000 people have been forced out of their homes, and 50,000 are sheltering in official evacuation centres.

In China, 1.8 million people are officially reported to have been driven out of their homes, and many more have seen their fields inundated and their livestock drowned after days of torrential rains in the central and eastern provinces of Hubei, Hunan, Jiangsu and Anhui. Consolidation work along the banks of big rivers, carried out after last summer's devastating floods, appears to have reduced the scale of the calamity, which has not so far affected China's second great waterway, the Yellow River.

Tropical Storm Olga was passing into Chinese territory last night after crossing South and North Korea, where the skies appeared to be clearing after four days of inundation.

In South Korea, 63 people were dead or missing and 90,000 acres of farmland were under water, although the situation was less clear in North Korea, where the Stalinist government is often reluctant to admit to a disaster.

The country's official news agency, KCNA, said the storm had "adversely affected agriculture and other areas" and that there had been "no small loss of human lives".

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