Death toll from Philippine storm, landslides climbs to 126

The storm hit central and eastern Philippine islands on December 29 and caused massive flooding and landslides. (AFP)
Updated 06 January 2019
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Death toll from Philippine storm, landslides climbs to 126

  • Officials also said that many residents were reluctant to leave their homes during the Christmas holidays
  • About 20 typhoons and storms batter the Philippines each year, killing hundreds of people

MANILA: The death toll from a storm that devastated the Philippines shortly after Christmas rose to 126, authorities said Sunday, adding landslides caused by torrential rain were the top cause.
The storm hit central and eastern Philippine islands on December 29 and caused massive flooding and landslides. More than 100 people died in the mountainous Bicol region southeast of Manila, regional disaster officials said.
While the Bicol region is often hit by deadly typhoons, many people failed to take necessary precautions because the storm was not strong enough to be rated as a typhoon under the government’s storm alert system, according to civil defense officials.
Officials also said that many residents were reluctant to leave their homes during the Christmas holidays.
“In two days alone, Usman poured more than a month’s worth of rainfall in the Bicol region,” national disaster agency spokesman Edgar Posadas said, using the local name for the storm which had weakened into a low-pressure area.
“Our search and retrieval operations are ongoing but the sticky mud and the unstable soil are a challenge.”
The death toll was likely to climb further with 26 people still missing, Posadas added.
More than 152,000 people were displaced by the storm and 75 were injured, according to the national disaster agency.
President Rodrigo Duterte visited the storm-hit areas on Friday and urged officials to build evacuation centers instead of using schools as shelters for the displaced.
About 20 typhoons and storms batter the Philippines each year, killing hundreds of people.
The deadliest in recent years was Super Typhoon Haiyan, which left more than 7,360 people dead or missing across the central Philippines in 2013.


Sri Lankan police hold alleged trainer of suicide bombers

Updated 2 min 37 sec ago
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Sri Lankan police hold alleged trainer of suicide bombers

  • Arrested Egyptian national living in Sri Lanka illegally for four years, police say
  • Eight countries promise help to combat terror, says leader

COLOMBO: An Egyptian man arrested north of the Sri Lankan capital Colombo on Wednesday is alleged to have trained suicide bombers who carried out the Easter Sunday attacks on the island, investigators said. 
 
The 44-year-old Egyptian national was arrested in Madampe, a coastal town 40 km north of Colombo, following a tip-off.
 
Ruwan Gunasekera, a Colombo police spokesman, said that the man had been living illegally on the island without a passport or valid visa for more than four years.
 
Police are investigating whether the suspect trained the suicide bombers responsible for a wave of attacks on hotels and churches on the island that left more than 350 people dead and hundreds injured.
 
Eight of the nine suicide bombers have been identified by police, the spokesman said.
 
The names of the attackers were withheld because of security concerns. However, Arab News learned that among the nine were Mohammed Insaf and Mohammed Azaam Mohammed Mubarak, who struck the Shangri La Hotel.

State Minister of Defense Ruwan Wijewardene said that most of the suicide bombers were well educated and hailed from upper middle-class families. One of the bombers had studied in the UK and did his doctorate in Australia, he added.
 
Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Niluka Kudirgamuwa told Arab News on Wednesday that the bodies of 13 of the 36 foreigners killed in the bomb blasts have been repatriated. Fourteen foreign tourists are still missing.
 
Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena told foreign ambassadors on Tuesday that eight countries, including the US and Germany, have pledged technological and intelligence assistance to combat terror on the island.
 
He appealed to other countries to cooperate “in this fight against the menace of terrorism.”
 
The Sri Lankan leader said that law enforcement agencies had acted swiftly to identify and arrest those responsible for acts of terrorism.
 
Envoys who offered help included representatives of the UN and EU, and ambassadors of Germany, the US, Denmark, Norway and Pakistan.
 
Sirisena said that intelligence gained during the 30-year civil war on the island will be used in the fight against terrorism following the introduction of emergency powers.
 
A block on social media will be lifted by Thursday, he said. 
Meanwhile, Archbishop Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith told Muslim foreign ambassadors and high commissioners who visited him to offer their condolences on Wednesday, that Muslims have successfully coexisted with other communities in the island for centuries.

Turkish Ambassador Tunca Ozcuhadar said the attack is neither communal nor political but was carried out by a group of misled youths who may have had some links with some extremist groups.