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October 10, 2009

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Mud and rain hamper rescue efforts in northern Philippines

RESCUERS struggled through mud and pounding rain yesterday to clear mountain roads and retrieve more than 160 bodies from dozens of landslides that buried villages and cut off towns in the rain-soaked northern Philippines.

The latest calamity brought the death toll to more than 450 from the Philippines' worst flooding in 40 years after back-to-back storms started pounding the country's north on September 26.

More than 160 people were killed in landslides in Benguet and Mountain Province along the Cordillera mountain range, about 200 kilometers north of Manila, officials in the two provinces said.

The fatalities included 120 in Benguet, 23 in Mountain Province, and 25 in Baguio.

Landslides blocked the roads to the mountain city of Baguio in the heart of the Cordillera region. Military helicopters could not fly yet because of the storms so the only way to reach the isolated, mountain communities was by foot, said Lieutenant Colonel Ernesto Torres, spokesman for the government's disaster relief agency.

"We are focused on rescue at this time," he said. "It is raining nonstop in the Cordilleras."

About 100 landslides have struck the region since the weekend, said Rex Manuel, another relief official.

Seventeen bodies have been recovered so far from Kibungan village in Benguet's La Trinidad township, which was almost entirely buried in mud and debris late on Thursday, Manuel said. Up to 40 villagers were estimated to have died, while more than 100 were moved to safety.

Rescuers in the hillside villages used pulleys to transport the dead they retrieved from rubble and mud. Relatives wept after recognizing their loved ones. "There was a sudden rumble above us, and then the houses at the bottom were gone, including them," said Melody Coronel, pointing to dead relatives.

In Buyagan village, also in La Trinidad, only three out of about 100 houses remained visible after a landslide.

Forecasters said Tropical Depression Parma was still lingering off the northeastern coast and dumped rain overnight. It hit land more than a week ago, the second major storm to hit the country in two weeks.


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