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September 28, 2009

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At least 106 dead or missing as wild storm hits Philippines

RESCUERS plucked bodies from muddy floodwaters and saved drenched survivors from rooftops yesterday after a tropical storm tore through the northern Philippines and left at least 106 people dead or missing.

It was the region's worst flooding in more than four decades. The government declared a "state of calamity" in metropolitan Manila and 25 storm-hit provinces.

Tropical Storm Ketsana roared across the northern Philippines on Saturday, dumping more than a month's worth of rain in just 12 hours. Landslides and flooding have left at least 83 people dead and 23 others missing, according to Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro.

Many parts of the capital of Manila remained flooded yesterday, although waters were fast receding.

TV footage shot from a military helicopter showed drenched survivors still marooned on top of half-submerged passenger buses and rooftops in the suburbs of Manila. Some dangerously clung to high-voltage power lines while others plodded through waist-high flood waters.

Rescue teams in boats were sent to save survivors sighted during the aerial check.

More than 330,000 people were affected by storm, including some 59,000 who were brought to about 100 schools, churches and evacuation shelters, officials said.

The "state of calamity" declaration allowed officials to use emergency funds for relief and rescue.

Teodoro said that so far, army troops, police and civilian volunteers had rescued more than 5,100 people.

Many residents lost all their belongings in the storm, but were thankful to be alive.

"We're back to zero," said resident Ronald Manlangit of Marikina, near Manila. Still he expressed relief that he managed to move his children to the second floor of his house on Saturday as water engulfed the ground floor.

Mud covered everything - cars, the road and vegetables in a public market near Manlangit's house.

Soldier drowns

Governor Joselito Mendoza of Bulacan Province, north of Manila, said it was tragic that "people drowned in their own houses" as the storm raged.

The latest reported fatalities included nine people in Bulacan, most of them drowned.

A northern Pampanga Province landslide killed 12.

An army soldier and four militiamen drowned while trying to rescue villagers in southern Laguna Province.

In Marikina, a rescuer gingerly lifted the mud-covered body of a child from a boat. Rescuers carried away four other bodies, including that of a woman found in a church, according to a photographer from The Associated Press.

Manila's airport was forced to close for several hours.

"My son is sick and alone. He has no food and may be waiting on the roof of his house. Please get somebody to save him," weeping Mary Coloma told Radio DZB.

The sun shone briefly in Manila yesterday and showed the extent of devastation in many neighborhoods - destroyed houses, overturned vans and cars, and roads covered in debris and mud.

Metropolitan Manila was swamped by 42.4 centimeters of rain in just 12 hours on Saturday, according to Nathaniel Cruz, the chief government weather forecaster.

Cruz said the rainfall broke the previous record of 33.4 centimeters in a 24-hour period in June 1967.

Ketsana, which packed winds of 85 kilometers per hour with gusts of up to 100kph, hit land early on Saturday then roared toward the South China Sea.


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