Victims of Philippines Storms Receive Aid

Philippine officials sought international help Sunday to rebuild villages ravaged by back-to-back storms that left 566 people dead and 546 others missing in mostly poor northern agricultural regions.

The storm and typhoon that struck late Monday and Thursday respectively set off flash floods and landslides, destroying hundreds of houses, farms, roads and bridges. Damaged infrastructure hampered rescue and relief efforts in remote villages, officials said.

Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman appealed for international help in "rebuilding water systems, toilets, livelihood in agriculture for people whose farmlands were buried in mud."

Official figures released earlier said 640 people had died in the storms, but the latest tally lowered the figure to 566.

Australia, the European Union, Japan, New Zealand, the United States as well as U.N. agencies and the International Red Cross quickly responded with financial aid, transport and relief goods.

U.S. Ambassador Francis Ricciardone, who flew by helicopter Sunday to villages in the hard-hit eastern province of Quezon, said roads and bridges needed to be repaired immediately to allow relief goods to flow to isolated areas.

"The devastation was worse than I had imagined," Ricciardone said. "It was quite distressing: logs everywhere, mud everywhere. Roads were cut off in many places and bridges were down."

Washington offered to dispatch troops to undertake humanitarian help, including at least one helicopter for transport and a team of U.S. military damage assessment experts. It also donated $200,000, 500 body bags and plastic shelter materials to the Philippine Red Cross, he said.

Marie North, a spokeswoman for the International Federation of Red Cross, said the group is appealing for $1.7 million to buy emergency relief supplies.

Hundreds of villagers tried to leave hard-hit areas, including Real in Quezon. More than 400 people jammed a ferry capable of carrying only 108 passengers. The coast guard allowed the ferry to sail to a nearby town after passengers agreed to get off.

Rosalie Salvidar, a 25-year-old cashier, stood at Real's pier with her family's muddied belongings — a small refrigerator, TV set, desktop computer, electric fan and three sacks of clothes. Log-laden mudslides had crushed their house in nearby Infanta.

Salvidar said she and her family would return to their hometown in another Quezon town. "We don't have a home now," she said.

Most of the destruction was wrought by a tropical storm that blew through northeastern provinces late Monday, killing at least 529 people and leaving 508 others missing. Typhoon Nanmadol struck the same region late Thursday, leaving 37 dead and 38 missing, according to revised figures by the Office of Civil Defense.

Deforestation has stripped hillsides of vegetation that could have held mud and other debris in place. Many believe years of illegal logging set off the landslides.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo on Saturday suspended all logging and said illegal loggers would be prosecuted in the same manner as terrorists, kidnappers, drug traffickers and other hardened criminals. She also urged Congress to stiffen penalties for illegal loggers and their cohorts.

It was unclear how long the moratorium would last or whether it was nationwide.

About 20 storms and typhoons hit the Philippines a year.