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Last Updated: Saturday, 2 December 2006, 15:00 GMT
Hopes fade after Philippine storm
An uprooted tree in Busay village, with Mayon in the background

Rescue workers in the central Philippines are searching for survivors in the wake of a typhoon that triggered deadly landslides.

More than 400 people have been reported either dead or missing, but Philippine officials said the toll could rise.

Rescue operations are continuing, but emergency workers say hopes of finding any more survivors are dwindling.

Areas near the Mayon volcano, south-east of Manila, were among the worst-hit by Typhoon Durian.

Stench of death

A local mayor said several villages had been wiped out, with only roofs jutting out of the mud and debris.

"It's terrible. We now call this place a black desert," said Noel Rosal, mayor of Legazpi, the capital of Albay province, after visiting one stricken village.

The BBC's Sarah Toms in the Philippines says that people have been using their bare hands to pull bodies from the thick sludge.

Dark mud surrounds villages and covers the usually green hills

About 100 miners have arrived to help with rescue efforts and army commanders have asked for dog teams to help with the search and lime to mask the stench.

But with many roads inaccessible, soldiers must hike for hours to reach the disaster areas, our correspondent says.

Officials using helicopters to conduct an aerial survey of the worst-hit areas estimate that more than 40,000 people have been displaced.

Many of the survivors, who have lost not only their homes, but their livelihoods too after fruit trees and rice paddies were destroyed, have crammed into makeshift shelters in schools and churches.

Disaster agencies say there is an urgent need for fresh water, food and medicine for the survivors, and more body bags.

'Lost everything'

Typhoon Durian struck the Philippines on Thursday, bringing heavy rain and winds of up to 225 kph (140 mph).

Map of the Philippines

The torrential rain dislodged ash and boulders from the slopes of the Mayon volcano, causing landslides which engulfed nearby villages.

The villages worst affected are Daraga, Busay and Santo Domingo, near Legazpi, 350km (220 miles) south of the capital, Manila.

The full extent of the damage is not yet known because power and telephone lines have been brought down.

The Office of Civil Defense said that 208 people had been killed, with 261 missing.

Fernando Gonzales, governor of Albay province, said a six-foot (1.8m) high wall of water had crashed down the mountain.

"We haven't seen anything like this perhaps in hundreds of years," he told Reuters news agency. "We lost everything."

One man told local radio that the force of the water had left him helpless.

"I clung to a coconut tree because the current was strong," Ramon Valderama said. "I was swept to sea. Big rocks were hitting me."

'Toll to rise'

Cedric Daep, head of the provincial Disaster Control Council, said waters had risen so fast that people could not escape from their houses.

Villagers sheltering on a river bank in Albay province
Witnesses spoke of a wall of water which flattened houses

He said the death toll was likely to rise. "There are possibly dozens or hundreds [of bodies] to be recovered," he told the French news agency AFP.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has ordered the military to assist medical teams in reaching submerged villages.

Glenn Rabonza of the Philippine National Disaster Coordinating Council told the BBC that relief supplies were flowing into the area.

Canada has pledged more than US$800,000 to help the relief effort and Japan says it will give more than a $170,000.

Mayon, the Philippines' most active volcano, had been rumbling for months and began emitting lava in mid-July.

Durian - named after a spiky Asian fruit - is the fourth typhoon to hit the Philippines in the last three months.

It was expected to weaken into a tropical storm as it moves into the South China Sea.

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