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Aid distributed to Philippines storms victims
REAL, Philippines -- Helicopters delivered food to famished survivors and picked up casualties as the weather cleared on Saturday in villages ravaged by back-to-back storms that have left 640 people dead and nearly 400 missing in the northern Philippines.
Officials, worried over rapidly dwindling relief goods, asked for more food, clothes, medicine and construction materials to help thousands of villagers overcome the devastation from the storm and typhoon.
In the worst-hit coastal town of Real in Quezon province, about 45 miles east of Manila, hundreds of residents lined up for food at a school turned into a relief center.
Official figures released earlier said more than 650 people had died in the storms, but the latest tally released Saturday put the confirmed figure at 640.
President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, her boots muddied after visiting typhoon-ravaged areas near Real, in the province of Quezon, received loud applause from residents of the town, where about 240 people were killed and 144 remained missing.
Arroyo told villagers and soldiers: "Congratulations, you are heroes."
About 90 percent of the mostly thatch houses in Real, a coastal town of about 40,000 farmers and fishermen, were damaged when floodwaters uprooted trees and sent boulders and debris rampaging down nearby hills that many say were denuded by loggers.
Reinforcing a widely held belief that years of illegal logging set off the deluge, Arroyo told reporters: "I'm canceling all (logging) permits here and suspending issuance of all others."
Arroyo said illegal loggers would be prosecuted like terrorists, kidnappers, drug traffickers and other hardened criminals and called for unity amid the disaster.
Most of the devastation was wrought by a tropical storm that blew through northeastern provinces late Monday, killing at least 527 people, including the 240 in Real, military Chief of Staff Gen. Efren Abu said Friday. Hardest hit was Quezon province, where 484 bodies have been recovered and 352 people were still missing, he said.
About 100 people also were found dead in Dumingan, about 60 miles northeast of Manila, Maj. Gen. Romeo Tolentino told ABS-CBN TV. It was unclear whether they died in Monday's storm or the typhoon.
About 500 soldiers plodded by foot, sometimes through chest-deep mud, to bring relief goods and help search for the missing in far-flung villages in Quezon isolated by broken bridges and blocked roads.
Residents tearfully recalled hearing a booming sound and then the sudden crash of floodwaters, boulders, trees and mud that swept away houses and people.
Gloria Rodriguez, 66, said she was in her house with a daughter, son and 10 grandchildren when their dwelling was hit by torrents of water and debris "in an instant, giving us only enough time to save ourselves."
Her daughter was swept away and has not been found.
Typhoon Nanmadol, packing sustained winds of 115 mph, struck the same region late Thursday, leaving 13 dead and 19 missing, according to the Office of Civil Defense.
The United Nations sent a team of experts Friday to help the government coordinate the international response to the disaster, U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard.
The Philippines is hit by about 20 storms and typhoons a year.