PANGASINAN, Philippines?The death toll from two weeks of unprecedented storms across the northern Philippines soared past 540 on Friday after landslides consumed homes and neck-deep floods inundated towns.
At least 181 people were killed in a series of rain-triggered landslides overnight Thursday and on Friday in the Cordillera region, local officials reported.
Meanwhile, the downstream farming plains of Central Luzon were inundated with waters that reached two storeys high after dams in the mountains could not hold the phenomenal amount of water that has fallen on the region.
"The rains in this area are unprecedented," the executive officer of the National Disaster Coordinating Council, Glenn Rabonza, told Agence France-Presse.
"We are stretched, no doubt, but we are responding in the best way we can."
The crisis showed no signs of easing as tropical storm Pepeng (international codename: Parma), responsible for the past week of rains, continued to hover just off Luzon.
In Metro Manila, nearly 300,000 homeless survivors from Tropical Storm Ondoy (Ketsana) were packed into evacuation camps following record rains on September 26 that killed at least 337 people.
US troops helping out in the capital extended their relief work to the north on Friday, dispatching helicopters and other rescue equipment, the Filipino military said.
The US embassy announced an extra two million dollars in aid for the Parma victims on top of money and materials donated for the Ondoy operations, while UN humanitarian chief John Holmes is to begin a two-day visit to the country Monday to review relief efforts, the world body said.
The worst of the overnight landslides appeared to be in remote Benguet province, where 120 people were confirmed killed in five towns, said provincial governor Nestor Fongwan.
Another 38 people were confirmed killed in the neighboring mountain resort of Baguio, officials there said.
Across all of the north, the confirmed death toll from the landslides was 181, on top of the 25 people killed earlier by Pepeng.
In the farming region of Pangasinan province to the southwest of the provinces where the landslides occurred, thousands of people were stranded on rooftops in dangerously similar scenes to those in Manila a fortnight ago.
Days of rain from Parma forced authorities to open the gates on five dams, sending water cascading through dozens of towns in Pangasinan, which has a population of 2.5 million people.
"A lot of places cannot be reached by our rubber boats because the current is too strong due to the waters released by San Roque dam," Pangasinan governor Amado Espino said.
"The dam is supposed to be for flood control but now it is so filled it is like it is not there. The water just rushes right through from the mountains to Pangasinan."
The disaster council's Rabonza said about 60 percent of Pangasinan, including about 30 towns, were flooded with waters reaching as high as the second floor of buildings.
In the town of Rosales, neck-high waters swallowed up houses, vehicles, rice fields and even a large shopping mall.
Desperate local officials made urgent pleas for rubber boats and helicopters to rescue those stranded by the floods.
Parma has been hanging over the northern Philippines since initially hitting as a typhoon on October 3.
Parma hit the Philippines exactly one week after tropical storm Ketsana dumped the heaviest rains in more than four decades on Manila.
The government has been overwhelmed by the crisis, which has forced hundreds of thousands of people in Manila and other parts of Luzon into makeshift evacuation centres after losing their homes to the floods.