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Philippines fears 1,000 killed in typhoon's wrath

Written by: Staff

DARAGA, Philippines, Dec 4 (Reuters) The Philippines fears up to 1,000 people were killed in landslides and floods set off by Typhoon Durian but officials said today that many of the bodies might never be found.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo declared a state of national calamity after Durian, which was approaching Vietnam today, killed 450 in the central Philippines and left 630 missing.

''I can feel it in my heart that my children are still alive,'' said a tearful Maricel Arvelo as she searched hospitals, funeral parlours and everywhere she could think of for her two daughters and one son.

''When I see them I will embrace them very tight and I will not allow them to leave my side.'' More than 1 million people were affected by the typhoon.

But villagers surrounding Mount Mayon, an active volcano about 320 km south of Manila, bore the brunt of Durian's wrath when torrential rains and wind sent walls of mud and boulders as big as cars crashing onto rural communities.

''It's going to be very difficult, extremely difficult, to retrieve all the bodies,'' Senator Richard Gordon, head of the local Red Cross, told Reuters. ''You are probably talking 700 to 1,000 people who have lost their lives.'' Soldiers, miners and a Spanish rescue team with a sniffer dog dug through the sludge, pulling out corpses and body parts. Nearly 60 people were killed when the chapel they were using for shelter from the storm was buried in debris.

Even the New People's Army, a communist rebel group locked in a four-decade insurgency against the government, ordered its cadres to help relief efforts.

The typhoon tore up power lines across 13 provinces and the operator of the national grid said the cost of restoring facilities would reach close to 800 million pesos.

The National Disaster Coordinating Council put the damage to property and agriculture at 274 million pesos.

LUCK AND CHANCE Residents in Albay province had already endured a series of typhoons this year and the threat of an eruption at Mayon, which triggered mass evacuations when it spewed flaming rocks and lava before calming down in September.

The debris left behind proved deadly when Durian struck on Thursday.

Durian, one notch below a category 5 ''super typhoon'' when it hit the Philippines, was expected to cross Vietnam's coast as a category 1 typhoon, potentially disrupting the coffee harvest.

At least 100 people were drowned in one Philippine village and an Australian and a New Zealander were among the missing.

Thousands crammed into schools, churches and town halls after 200,000 homes were damaged.

Despite the risk of a sudden eruption, poor farmers live on the slopes of Mount Mayon to tend fruit trees and vegetables in its fertile soil. But Gordon said communities needed to be relocated before the next catastrophe strikes.

''It's simply casting your faith on luck and chance. You can't do that,'' he said.

Storms regularly hit the Philippines. In the worst disaster in recent years, more than 5,000 people died on the central island of Leyte in 1991 in floods triggered by a typhoon.

In 2004, a series of storms left about 1,800 people dead or missing, including 480 killed when mudslides buried three towns in Quezon, an eastern province.

Reuters SSC DB1837

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