Up to 1000 may have died in Philippines typhoon

National Disaster center reports 309 bodies retrieved, 298 people still missing.

philippines storm 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
philippines storm 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
Hopes virtually vanished Sunday for finding survivors of typhoon-triggered mudslides that engulfed entire villages in the eastern Philippines, and the Red Cross feared the death toll could reach 1000. The government's National Disaster Coordinating Center reported that 309 bodies have been retrieved and 298 people remained missing three days after Typhoon Durian struck, triggering mudslides in worst-hit Albay province. Sen. Richard Gordon, who heads the local Red Cross, said the death toll could easily reach 1000 "on the low side," based on official casualty figures and reports from mayors of devastated villages. "There are many unidentified bodies. There could be a lot more hidden below. Whole families may have been wiped out," Gordon told The Associated Press by telephone. "It's really, really a war zone out there," He said on ABS-CBN television. No survivors are known to have been pulled from the swampy ground since the first hours after Durian blasted ashore Thursday, with winds gusting up to 265 kph (165 mph). The storm affected more than 830,000 people, officials said. The first funerals took place Saturday evening as bodies rapidly decomposed in the tropical heat. All but two dozen of the deaths occurred in Albay, with 165 in the town of Guinobatan, swamped by floodwaters in the foothills of Mayon volcano southeast of the capital, Manila. Four other provinces reported fatalities, but accurate casualty figures were hard to come by because power lines and phone services were down. In some places, searchers found only body parts. In Albay's battered capital of Legazpi City, residents lined up to buy drinking water, gasoline and food. Panic gripped one community due to rumors of an impending tsunami, but officials quickly reassured people that no tsunami-triggering earthquake had occurred. Glen Rabonza, an official helping oversee disaster-response efforts, said army troops and miners were helping search for missing villagers in Albay, where 52 tons of relief goods, medicine, body bags and other aid have been flown in by air force C-130 cargo planes. Houses along the Yawa River in Padang, about 10 kilometers (7 miles) from Legazpi, were buried under 1 1/2 meters (5 feet) of mud, with only roofs protruding. In Padang village, 28 bodies were recovered, said Luis Bello, the mayor's aide. Some of the bodies had been washed out to sea, then swept by currents to the shores of an adjacent town. For nearly three hours late Thursday afternoon, mudslides ripped through Mayon's gullies, uprooting trees, flattening houses and swallowing people. Australia conveyed its condolences through Ambassador Tony Hely to President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, and made an initial pledge of US$780,000 (€589,000) in immediate humanitarian relief. Canada earlier donated US$876,000 (€660,000), while Japan said it would send US$173,000; €130,000).