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By Manny Mogato
MANILA (Reuters) - Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo mobilised troops on Saturday to clear roads of debris and mud in mountainous northern provinces isolated by landslides and floods that left 184 dead after a week of heavy rains.
Three northern regions devastated by the floods account for the bulk of the rice output in the main Luzon island and officials were assessing damage to the fourth quarter harvest.
About 3.2 billion pesos (43 million pounds) worth of crops, mainly rice and corn, were destroyed based on initial estimates by the agriculture department as of late Friday.
"I have ordered the soldiers and cadets at the Philippine Military Academy in Baguio City to help out in the rescue and relief efforts," Arroyo said in a statement.
Baguio City in the vegetable and rice growing mountain province of Benguet 250 km (155 miles) north of the capital, remained totally cut off after boulders and mudslides, triggered by days of intense rain from Typhoon Parma, blocked roads.
Parma first hit the Philippines last Saturday and hovered around the northern part of Luzon throughout the week. It has since weakened into a tropical depression and moved out to sea.
The floods and mudslides came two weeks after another storm, Ketsana, inundated areas in and around the capital Manila, killing at least 337 people and forcing half a million from their homes.
7 PERCENT OF HARVEST AFFECTED
Damage to rice production from the two storms was estimated at 478,000 tonnes, equivalent to 7 percent of the forecast harvest of 6.5 million tonnes in the fourth quarter, said Jesus Emmanuel Paras, Agriculture undersecretary for operations.
Manila, the world's biggest rice buyer, is considering importing rice to augment its supply for 2010 after the typhoon damage, with Vietnam and Thailand eager to provide the grain.
"We're still waiting for data on how much of the rice crops have been damaged," Frisco Malabanan, programme director for rice at the agriculture department, told Reuters. Farmers salvaged what was left of their crops after the weather improved on Saturday.
Lieutenant-Colonel Ernesto Torres, spokesman for the disaster agency, said Benguet was the hardest hit with nearly 150 people killed in landslides, including rescuers trying to pull bodies out of collapsed houses.
Torres said the death toll from landslides and floods in the northern Philippines has risen to 184 after more bodies were found in Benguet and nearby La Union province.
Besides setting off landslides in the mountains, the rain has swollen rivers and reservoirs, forcing dams used for hydropower and irrigation to release water and causing more flooding in areas downstream.
About 80 percent of the coastal province of Pangasinan in northwestern Philippines was inundated, with 50,000 people evacuated from low-lying areas, Eugene Cabrera, head of the regional disaster agency, said in a radio interview.
(Editing by Rosemarie Francisco and Bill Tarrant)

Reuters