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In storm-ravaged Philippines, an urgent plea for aid

REAL, Philippines -- Helicopters delivered food to famished survivors and picked up casualties as the weather cleared yesterday in villages ravaged by back-to-back storms that 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.

"If there's a continuous flow of support, we can make it," Mayor Arsenio Ramallosa said as he supervised the distribution of food and relief goods. "But at the moment, the government's relief supplies would only be good for three days."

Official figures released earlier said more than 650 people had died in the storms, but the latest tally released yesterday put the confirmed figure at 640.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, her boots muddied after visiting typhoon-ravaged areas near Real, received applause from residents of the town, where about 240 people were killed and 144 are missing.

About 90 percent of the mostly thatch houses in Real, a coastal town of about 40,000 farmers and fishermen, were damaged when flood waters uprooted trees and sent boulders and debris rampaging down nearby hills that many say were denuded by loggers.

Most of the devastation was wrought by a tropical storm that blew through northeastern provinces late Monday, killing at least 527 people, military Chief of Staff General Efren Abu said Friday.

Hardest hit was Quezon Province, where 484 bodies have been recovered, and 352 people were still missing, he said.

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