GUINOBATAN, Philippines (AP) – Officials could only apologize Monday when asked about the prospects of finding survivors in the towns and villages swamped by mudslides from devastating Typhoon Durian, which has killed an estimated 1,000 people in the Philippines.

“At this time, no more. I’m sorry,” said Juan Garcia, mayor of the town of Guinobatan. “It’s almost impossible. They have been buried under sand and boulders. I don’t think they can survive.”

Meanwhile, authorities evacuated tens of thousands in southern Vietnam, where a weakened Durian was expected to come ashore.

The typhoon’s winds were clocked Monday at 82 mph. On Thursday, it lashed the Philippines with 165 mph winds and a five-hour deluge that dislodged tons of debris from the slopes of the Mayon volcano. Walls of mud and boulders destroyed nearly every standing structure in their path.

“It was like bowling,” said Guinobatan Vice Mayor Gene Villareal.

Official figures showed 450 dead, 507 injured and 599 missing, but Sen. Richard Gordon, head of the local Red Cross, said he believed more than 1,000 died in the thousands of homes buried under volcanic debris, mud and floodwaters.

Fernando Gonzalez, governor of worst-hit Albay province, said the ground was too slippery for backhoes.

“There’s no choice but to dig by hand,” he told Radio DZBB. “Practically speaking, we are not very optimistic we’ll find survivors.”

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo declared the area a national disaster, allowing the government to more rapidly release funds needed to bolster aid efforts. Arroyo said she instructed the Department of Environment to step up a project to map all hazardous areas, like Mayon, to help warn communities of possible dangers.

“We must not leave things to fatal luck when we can develop the tools to prevent harm,” she said.

In Vietnam, Khanh Hoa provincial disaster official Phan Van Giac said nearly 14,000 people were evacuated to schools, government buildings or safer areas, and that authorities were forcing from their homes another 10,000 who have so far refused to leave.

About 4,000 people were evacuated in Phu Yen province, where two fishermen were killed and another was missing after their boats capsized in strong winds.

Ninh Thuan provincial Governor Hoang Thi Ut Lan said about 2,000 residents had been evacuated, but returned to their homes. Authorities were trying to force them to move to safer places.

“Many people who were moved have decided to go back to their houses because it’s still sunny,” she said. “It is really a problem for us now.”

AP-ES-12-04-06 1551EST


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