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Landslides, floods kill nearly 340 in Philippines

MARAGUNDON, Philippines -- A powerful rainstorm triggered landslides and flash floods that killed nearly 340 people in the eastern Philippines, officials said yesterday, and rescuers raced to save those stranded in three coastal towns before a typhoon strikes the hard-hit region.

At least 150 people were reported missing, and the region was largely cut off by landslides and floodwaters that washed away bridges and roads. Helicopter crews struggled to find places to land and dropped food to residents huddled on rooftops.

Authorities planned to send a coast guard boat to three stricken towns in Quezon Province, east of the capital, to deliver supplies or pick up evacuees. Forecasters predicted a new typhoon circling off the Pacific coast could hit the area as early as today.

Corazon Soliman, the social welfare secretary, went to Quezon Province yesterday after the overnight storm and reported that at least 306 people were killed and 150 were missing. Thirty-two people died elsewhere, authorities said.

Soliman said bad weather and blocked roads prevented officials from delivering relief supplies and rescuing people from rooftops in parts of the province 40 miles east of Manila.

''The current is still strong, and the water is still high," she said. ''The rains caused the flash floods, and the soil could not hold up the water in the mountains."

In the village of Maragundon in Quezon Province, workers used a tractor to try to clear a mudslide that blocked a road and partly buried a house. Residents trying to return to damaged homes got off buses and walked several miles to reach the town, sometimes wading in waist-deep mud and water.

Air force spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Restituto Padilla said some towns in Quezon were inaccessible because bridges had been destroyed by logs or fallen trees.

Soliman said officials told residents to seek high ground because rain was continuing in the mountains, threatening more floods and landslides. She said most of the dead were in three Quezon towns: Real, Infanta, and General Nakar. Officials were arranging for a coast guard boat to reach the towns.

Soliman said 114 people died in Real. Bodies of the dead in Real were brought to the local gymnasium, she said.

TV footage showed residents lining up the bodies of 13 people, including several children, on a muddy roadside in Real. Fallen trees and coconut leaves littered the area.

A coast guard helicopter flew 12 people who were injured in the Quezon landslides to Manila for treatment, most with broken bones. Some were in critical condition.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was returning from a regional summit in Laos and planned to visit the storm-ravaged areas. She went to the region just last week after a typhoon and another storm killed at least 87 people and left 80 missing.

Rampant illegal logging has been blamed for leaving towns vulnerable to landslides, a factor in several disasters in recent years.

''We think that illegal logging can be one of the main reasons why floods affected those towns," said Jayjay Suarez, vice governor of Quezon province.

The National Disaster Coordinating Committee said at least 21 people were killed in other provinces in the main northern island of Luzon.

The floods came just a week after storms left about 160 dead or missing, stretching the country's poorly equipped rescue services and military.

Tropical depression Winnie moved into the South China Sea, but a more powerful storm was on course to hit the country tomorrow and was gathering strength as it approached the east coast.

''A new typhoon is headed in our direction," Defense Secretary Avelino Cruz told reporters, referring to tropical storm Nanmadol. ''This one is much stronger and has a wider coverage than the one that hit Quezon province."

Officials said rescue efforts were being hampered by landslides blocking roads and a lack of helicopters.

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