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Philippines: Arroyo Arrives in Devasted Southern Leyte - 2003-12-23


The Philippine president has flown to the province of Southern Leyte, which has been devastated by heavy rains. More than two hundred people are feared dead following heavy storms that also sank a ferry off the off the southern Philippine coast.

President Gloria Arroyo flew to Southern Leyte Tuesday, a day after local officials declared a calamity in the region because of flooding and mudslides brought on by a week of heavy rain.

Relief workers say most of the casualties occurred on the southern tip of the island, some 600 kilometers south of Manila, but say more than a dozen people also died on neighboring Mindanao island. Dozens of people are missing, believed to have been buried under mud and debris.

A spokeswoman for the Philippines Red Cross, Tessie Usabdin, says an estimated one thousand families in Southern Leyte have been made homeless by the disaster and up to 17,000 families on Mindanao have been affected. She says people were not prepared for the heavy rains. "There was no typhoon, so there was no warning from the Weather Bureau," she says. "So the people were not really that prepared."

Ms. Usabdin says the Red Cross has begun distributing food, water, blankets and cooking utensils. But she says several hundred families are still without assistance in remote areas that have been cut off by mudslides.

The Philippine Coast Guard has been searching for several dozen people missing after their ferry sunk in a storm near Borneo island. Coast Guard Spokesman Lieutenant Man Balilo says a passing ship rescued 20 people who were aboard the ferry when it sank Sunday. At least 75 passengers and crew were on the ferry at the time. "The Coast Guard plane Highlander has sighted five survivors near the vicinity of Banngi Island, near the border of Malaysia and the Philippine," he says. "Our search and rescue efforts is [are] continuing… and as of now the tally of the survivors are [is] numbering 25."

He says bad weather continues to endanger small boats and warned fishermen to take precautions before sailing.

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