Hundreds die as flash floods hit Philippines

Officials warn death toll will rise as 11ft-deep waters brought by tropical storm start to recede

Flash floods triggered by a tropical storm in the southern Philippines have killed 436 people, with scores of others missing, Red Cross officials said yesterday.

Washi, the 19th storm to hit the Philippines this year, blanketed the Mindanao region, moving over the Sulu Sea yesterday morning with clouds 250 miles in diameter and maximum gusts of 56mph. "In less than an hour the water rose to about 11ft", the height of his home's ceiling, said Ayi Hernandez, a former congressman.

The Philippine Red Cross reported 215 dead in the city of Cagayan de Oro and 144 in nearby Iligan, with more victims in other southern and central provinces. Many of the bodies are those of children and pensioners who were unable to get away in time, and many are unclaimed, indicating that entire families have perished. About 250 people remain unaccounted for in Iligan.

"Most of the dead were asleep when floodwaters tore through their homes. Scores of residents escaped by climbing onto their roofs," said Lawrence Cruz, the mayor of Iligan.

Some 180 people have so far been rescued in waters off El Salvador city and the Opol township after they were swept into the sea by a raging river. Evacuees are now packed into temporary shelters. "I have not seen anything like this. This could be worse than Ondoy," said an army spokesman, referring to the 2009 storm that killed hundreds in the capital, Manila.

Thousands of soldiers with hundreds of police, reservists, coast guard officers and civilian volunteers have undertaken a rescue mission and are attempting to clear the debris that has deluged coastal cities.

The Civil Defence Office chief, Benito Ramos, attributed Mindanao's high death rate partly to "the complacency of people who are not in the usual path of storms", despite four days of warnings. A spokesman for the national disaster agency said the death total is likely to rise.