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September 29, 2009

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Manila seeks global assistance after powerful storm kills 140

THE Philippines appealed for international help yesterday after a tropical storm killed 140 people in the country's north, and it warned that a new storm could strike this week, with tens of thousands of citizens still displaced from their homes.

At least 32 people were reported missing, and authorities were still trying to verify scores of unconfirmed deaths, including in the hard-hit capital Manila and nearby Rizal Province, where there were reports that about 99 more people had died, Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro said.

Tens of thousands of residents, meanwhile, began a massive cleanup of the carnage left by Tropical Storm Ketsana, which struck on Saturday, bringing the region's worst flooding in 42 years and triggering deadly landslides.

The extent of devastation became clearer yesterday, with mud-covered communities, cars upended on city streets and huge numbers of villagers without drinking water, food and power.

In Manila's suburban Marikina City, a sofa hung from electric wires.

Resident Jeff Aquino said floodwaters rose to his home's third floor at the height of the storm, when it dumped more than a month's worth of rain in just 12 hours.

Aquino, his wife, three young children and two nephews spent that night on their roof without food and water, mixing infant formula for his 2-year-old twins with the falling rain. "We thought it was the end for us," Aquino said.

Among those stranded was young actress Christine Reyes, who was rescued by movie and TV heartthrob Richard Gutierrez from the rooftop of her home near Manila after she made a frantic call for help to a local TV network with her cell phone.

"If the rains do not stop, the water will reach the roof. We do not know what to do. My mother doesn't know how to swim," she said, weeping.

Gutierrez, a close friend and Reyes' co-star in an upcoming movie, heard of her plight, borrowed an army speedboat and ferried Reyes, her mother and two young children to safety.

Since the storm struck, the government has declared a "state of calamity" in metropolitan Manila and 25 storm-hit provinces, allowing officials to use emergency funds for relief and rescue.

The homes of more than 450,000 people were inundated. Some 115,000 of them were brought to about 200 schools, churches and other evacuation shelters, officials said. Troops, police and volunteers have been able to rescue more than 7,900 people so far, Teodoro said.

He said that help from foreign governments will ensure that the Philippine government can continue its relief work.


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