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Nearly 600 dead and missing in Philippines storm
by Staff Writers
Iligan, Philippines (AFP) Dec 17, 2011

Eleven dead in Colombia landslide, floods
Bogota (AFP) Dec 16, 2011 - Eleven people were killed and four others reported missing Friday in Colombia after heavy rains caused a landslide and forced already swollen rivers to burst their banks, officials said.

Rescue workers in the central department of Caldas "recovered nine bodies" including four minors after a landslide buried two houses, a spokesman for the national risk management office told AFP.

In northeast Magdalena, an overflowing river inundated two houses and washed away a bridge, killing two people and leaving four others missing.

The rainy season in Colombia, which began in September, has brought a wave of fatalities, with a total of 159 dead, according to official figures. More than 878,000 people have been affected by the rains.

Mountainous regions have been worst affected, with a high risk of landslides, mudslides and severe floods.

Tropical storm Washi raked across the southern Philippines, unleashing mammoth floods across vast areas that left almost 200 people dead and nearly 400 more missing, officials said Saturday.

They said 20,000 soldiers had been mobilised in a huge rescue and relief operation across the stricken north coast of the island of Mindanao, where the major ports of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan were worst hit.

Iligan mayor Lawrence Cruz described rampaging floodwaters from swollen rivers that swamped up to a quarter of the land area of the city of 100,000.

"It's the worst flood in the history of our city," Cruz told GMA television. "It happened so fast, at a time when people were fast asleep."

The station showed dramatic pictures of a family escaping out of the window of their home in the town as the floods rose, and rescue workers in orange vests shepherding survivors to safety above chest-deep waters.

Marlyn Manos, an Iligan resident, recounted how she and her children watched in terror from their rooftop as flash floods demolished neighbours' homes.

"All the small houses behind ours were destroyed, and many of my neighbours are missing," she said.

The region's military spokesmen said 97 bodies were recovered in Cagayan de Oro, with another 75 corpses found in Iligan.

Fifteen people who were swept out to sea were rescued off Iligan but another 250 remained unaccounted for in the town, they said, with 125 more missing in Cagayan de Oro, a city of half a million people.

Three people also drowned in the town of Polanco and five were killed in a landslide in mountains near the town of Monkayo, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council said in Manila.

After hitting the southern ports, Washi brushed past the central island of Negros, unleashing more floods that killed 18 people there, the council's executive director Benito Ramos told AFP.

The western island of Palawan is expected to be hit on Saturday night with peak winds of 75 miles (46.6 miles) after Washi crosses the Sulu Sea, the state weather service said.

Ramos suggested some Mindanao residents had underestimated the threat posed by the approaching storm, in a region which is outside the country's typhoon belt.

"Storms rarely hit this area and people probably became complacent even though they knew it was heading their way," Ramos said.

Eric Carillo, an Iligan resident, told GMA the rains started pouring heavily late Friday but his family, who emerged alive from the floods, were not unduly alarmed and did not seek higher ground.

"I've been around for 47 years and this was the worst flooding I have ever experienced," he added.

Iligan tourism officer Pat Noel told AFP waters began rising shortly before midnight (1600 GMT Friday) as people slept, sweeping houses made of light materials and their inhabitants along the riverbanks.

"Many of them told me they sought refuge on their rooftops," he said after joining the first wave of rescuers at daybreak.

Two of the three rivers that flow into the port of Iligan had overflowed, he added, and a popular radio commentator was among those killed.

Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman said the flooding affected more than 22,000 families, but government officials could not give the total number of people who had lost their homes.

President Benigno Aquino has ordered 10 evacuation centres to be put up in the affected areas of Mindanao, his spokeswoman Abigail Valte said on government radio.

The Philippines is struck by about 20 major storms annually, with most hitting Luzon, the largest and most populous island in the Southeast Asian archipelago.

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Massive outage as storm batters northern France
Rennes, France (AFP) Dec 16, 2011 - A storm battered France and Switzerland on Friday, with three people injured in a Swiss train derailment, hundreds of thousands left without power and a grounded ship spilling oil off Brittany.

In France, Interior Minister Claude Gueant said France appeared to have escaped the storm without injuries, although Joachim wrought some significant damage, with downed electricity lines in some areas.

"It seems there have been no victims," he said, adding that "a certain number" of people living in low-lying areas in Brittany, in the northwest, had been evacuated because of the storm.

Officials said 600,000 households had lost electricity because of the storm, mainly in the west of the country.

By mid-day, the number of homes without electricity had fallen to about 260,000 as workers scrambled to restore electricity infrastructure.

The storm had been battering the area since Thursday night with gusts up to 133 kilometres (83 miles) per hour and waves up to seven metres (23 feet) high.

Joachim caused a cargo ship, the TK Bremen flying the Maltese flag, to run aground and spill some oil into the sea off Brittany early on Friday, officials said.

"The level of pollution is limited," said local maritime official Marc Gander, adding that regional authorities were deploying equipment to try and contain the slick and to empty the ship of its 180 tons of fuel and 40 tons of diesel.

All 19 members of the ship's crew were evacuated by helicopter.

Local prosecutors in Brest said they had opened an investigation into the spill.

Train traffic was disrupted with more than 15 trains cancelled in central France and significant delays, the French rail authority said.

The storm had little effect on international flights but the strong winds did force some tourist sites to close, including the park at the Chateau de Versailles near Paris and the famed Christmas market in Strasbourg.

However some airports were affected in Switzerland, with a hundred flights to European destinations cancelled at Zurich and Basel-Mulhouse.

The storm was moving its way inland on Friday, with Swiss authorities reporting it caused a train to derail, lightly injuring three people.

"Friday morning a train derailed in the forest near Tramelan," in the northwest of the mountainous country, police said in a statement.

The storm also caused road accidents in Switzerland with one 36-year-old driver injured when his truck was blown over.

The rail operator CGN, which manages the lines between Switzerland and France, announced the closure of all its services.

Elsewhere a 65-year-old man suffered hypothermia after being swept into the Rhine river.

The ill wind did blow some good for winter sports enthusiasts, with heavy snowfalls falling or expected at ski stations until now short of snow for locals and tourists just ahead of the Christmas holiday peak season.



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Study links tropical cyclones to earthquakes
San Francisco (AFP) Dec 8, 2011
US researchers said Thursday they have found evidence that tropical cyclones in Haiti and Taiwan were followed by earthquakes, suggesting that heavy rains and landslides may unleash temblors. "Very wet rain events are the trigger," said University of Miami scientist Shimon Wdowinski, an associate research professor of marine geology and geophysics. "The heavy rain induces thousands of la ... read more

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