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240 Lives Claimed by Philippines Flooding

Updated at 9:18 p.m. ET.
The official death toll in the massive flooding in the Philippines has climbed to 240. There are nearly 380,000 people in evacuation centers, up sharply from the 115,000 previously reported, says CBS News' Barnaby Lo in Manila. 37 others are reported missing.

Overwhelmed officials have called for international help, warning they may not have enough resources to withstand another storm that forecasters say is brewing east of the country and could hit as early as Friday.

Tropical Storm Ketsana, which scythed across the northern Philippines on Saturday, dumped more than a month's worth of rain in just 12 hours, fueling the worst flooding to hit the country in more than 40 years. The National Disaster Coordinating Council said Tuesday the homes of nearly 1.9 million were inundated.

Troops, police and volunteers have rescued nearly 8,000 people. And as flood water recedes in more affected areas, the government is now shifting its operations from "search and rescue" to "relief and retrieval."

Survivors are digging through the mud, desperately trying to find their loved ones. Dead bodies were found everywhere - hanging in trees, floating in flood water, or buried alive by massive landslides.

Some of the city's streets are littered with people begging for help, and in posh gated communities, people are wondering how to deal with overturned cars piled on top of each other. Most victims are left with nothing except for the clothes they were wearing last Saturday.

Ketsana did not spare anyone, rich or poor. Entire shanties were easily swept away, but even concrete houses in middle-class communities collapsed. Lo said that the National Disaster Coordinating Council reported 204 houses totally destroyed, and 354 partially destroyed, an estimated $3 million in property loss.

The government moved to freeze prices of food and other basic commodities for the next month and oil companies rolled back gas and diesel prices today.

Amidst criticisms of the government's slow response, victims are also blaming the government for not warning them before releasing water from dams. Officials went only as far as saying that it is standard procedure to advise the public before releasing water from a dam, but they say that the floods were not just caused by the water released from dams, but it was mostly the sheer amount of rainfall that flooded the city. More water may be released, but the Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro assured the public that they would be advised.

The main concern Monday was rapidly turning to the threat of disease as sewage and drinking water systems were clogged with fetid flood water and the bodies of victims lay, or floated, dangerously close to the population of Manila.

Army troops, police and civilian volunteers plucked dead bodies from muddy flood waters and rescued drenched survivors from rooftops after Ketsana tore through the northern Philippines on Saturday.

Rains swamped entire towns, setting off landslides and leaving neighborhoods in the capital with destroyed houses, overturned vehicles and roads covered in mud and debris.

The government declared a in metropolitan Manila and 25 storm-hit provinces, allowing officials to use emergency funds for relief and rescue.

Some 7,900 had been rescued, reports Lo, but the Philippine government admitted the scope of the disaster was too great for them to handle, saying the threat of disease outbreaks and distributing aid to survivors were the top concerns.

People were crammed into makeshift evacuation centers in schools and gymnasiums, where survivors were forced to sleep on cold concrete floors - sometimes next to coffins containing the bodies of flood victims.

Dr. Melissa Guerrero, chief aide to the health secretary, told Agence France Presse on Monday that infections including swine flu, diarrhea and the bacterial disease leptospirosis were at the top of the government's list of concerns. Stagnant water could also serve as a breeding ground for mosquitoes that spread dengue fever.

"Now that you have a breakdown in your water and sanitation facilities and evacuation sites, the transmission of diseases will be faster," Guerrero said.

The Philippine Red Cross and the Philippine Medical Association asked doctors to volunteer their services and appealed to the public to donate medicines, antiseptics, and bottled water.

"People drowned in their own houses," as the storm raged, said Gov. Joselito Mendoza of Bulacan province, north of the capital.

"We are concentrating on massive relief operations. (But) the system is overwhelmed, local government units are overwhelmed," the head of the National Disaster Coordinating Council, Anthony Golez, told reporters.

"We were used to helping one city, one or two provinces but now they were following one after another. Our assets and people are spread too thinly."

Two days after the storm, at least several hundreds are still stranded on rooftops, with no food or water. The slow government response has angered many. Some say they saw military helicopters hover above them but help never came. On Facebook, Twitter, and online forums, people commented that the two largest local television networks are doing more to help than the government.

Meanwhile, the streets of Manila were empty, as business establishments remained close and people start going back home to pick up whatever they have left.

In Marikina, one of the hardest hit areas, thousands of people flocked to the market to buy food, water, and clothes. Most of them said they now had to rebuild their lives from scratch.

Meteorologists say the Philippines' location in the northwestern Pacific puts it right in the pathway of the world's No. 1 typhoon generator. Doomed by geography and hobbled by poverty, the Philippines has long tried to minimize the damage caused by the 20 or so typhoons that hit the sprawling archipelago every year. Despite a combination of preparation and mitigation measures, high death tolls and destruction persist.

"We're back to zero," said Ronald Manlangit, a 30-year-old resident of the Manila suburb of Marikina. Floodwaters engulfed the ground floor of his home and drowned his TV set and other prized belongings. Still, he expressed relief that he managed to move his children to the second floor.

"Suddenly, all of our belongings were floating," Malangit said. "If the water rose farther, all of us in the neighborhood would have been killed."

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo toured devastated areas and prodded villagers to move on with their lives. She said the storm and the flooding were "an extreme event" that "strained our response capabilities to the limit but ultimately did not break us."

TV footage shot Sunday from a military helicopter showed drenched survivors marooned on top of half-submerged passenger buses and rooftops in suburban Manila. Some dangerously clung to high-voltage power lines while others plodded through waist-high waters.

In Marikina, a rescuer gingerly lifted the mud-covered body of a child from a boat. An Associated Press photographer saw rescuers carry away four other bodies, including that of a woman found in a church in a flooded neighborhood.

Authorities deployed rescue teams on boats to save survivors.

Ketsana, which packed winds of 53 miles per hour with gusts of up to 63 miles per hour, hit land early Saturday then roared across the main northern Luzon island toward the South China Sea.

The 16.7 inches of rain that swamped metropolitan Manila in just 12 hours on Saturday exceeded the 15.4-inch average for all of September, chief government weather forecaster Nathaniel Cruz said. He said the rainfall also broke the previous record of 13.2 inches, which fell in a 24-hour period in June 1967.

And more rain is on the way. A tropical depression approaching the Philippines is expected to hit the country in two days, reports Lo.