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80 Dead in Philippine Landslides, Floods - 2003-12-21

The death toll from floods and landslides in the eastern Philippines continues to climb, amid desperate rescue efforts. As Ron Corben reports from Bangkok, more than 80 people are confirmed dead, and there are fears the total number of deaths may top 200 Philippine rescue workers continued to battle bad weather Sunday to aid thousands of people hit by devastating floods and storms in the eastern Philippines.

Six days of heavy rains and high seas have triggered floods and landslides over the past few days in several provinces, including Leyte, more than 600 kilometers southeast of Manila.

"As of now, we have 82 casualties [that have] come from different provinces caused by flooding and by landslides, said Red Cross spokesman Doming Dorada. "That is come from Surigao del Norte, Agusan de Norte and southern Leyte Island."

Mr. Dorada says the toll is expected to rise. More than 100 people are believed buried under mud and rubble.

Officials blamed widespread illegal logging in nearby hills for the landslides.

Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo says the United States offered to help rescue efforts. She has asked for American helicopters capable of operating in poor weather conditions, because the landslides and floods have badly damaged roads.

Mrs. Arroyo says attention will be given to communities hardest hit by the floods, to help rescue survivors and prevent outbreaks of disease.

Television images showed people desperately clawing through mud to reach friends and loved ones under the mass of earth. Many have lost almost entire families, as the landslides struck late Friday.

Philippine army troops have been dispatched to assist with rescue work, but were struggling to reach isolated villages cut off by the floods.

Civil defense officials said that up to 8,000 people in the province of Leyte and in Mindanao have been rescued and are being housed in schools.

The Philippines regularly faces up to 20 typhoons a year. The storms of the past few days, however, are not associated with a typhoon, but the devastation appears to be the most severe the country has faced this year.