Over 400 killed in Philippines flash floods

 

Pounding rain from a tropical storm swelled rivers and sent walls of water crushing into two southern Philippine cities in the thick of night, killing at least 436 people, many caught in their beds, officials said today.

Philippine Red Cross Secretary General Gwen Pang told The Associated Press that the latest toll was based on a body count in funeral parlors. She said that 215 died in Cagayan de Oro and 144 in nearby Iligan, and the rest in several other southern and central provinces.

Most of the dead were asleep Friday night when raging floodwaters tore through their homes from swollen rivers and cascaded from mountain slopes following 12 hours of pounding rain in the southern Mindanao region. The region is unaccustomed to the typhoons that are common elsewhere in the archipelago nation.

Many of the bodies in parlors were unclaimed, indicating that entire families had perished, Pang said.

The number of missing was unclear Saturday night. Before the latest Red Cross figures, military spokesman Lt. Col. Randolph Cabangbang said about 250 people were still unaccounted for in Iligan.

Thousands of soldiers backed up by hundreds of local police, reservists, coast guard officers and civilian volunteers were mobilized for rescue efforts and to clean up after the massive deluge that left the two coastal cities strewn with debris, trash, overturned vehicles and toppled trees.

Many roads were cut off and there was no electricity, hampering relief efforts.

Some of the dead were swept out to sea from Cagayan de Oro and Iligan, which are intersected by rivers and flanked by mountains.

Chief of the government's Civil Defense Office Benito Ramos attributed the high casualties in Mindanao "partly to the complacency of people because they are not in the usual path of storms" despite four days of warnings by officials that one was approaching.

Ayi Hernandez, a former congressman, said he and his family were resting in their home late Friday when they heard a loud "swooshing sound" and water quickly rose ankle deep inside his home. He decided to evacuate to a neighbor's two-story house.

"It was a good thing because in less than an hour the water rose to about 11 feet (3.3 meters)," the height of the ceiling of his house, he said.

A man in Cagayan de Oro said he heard a cry for help around 10 p.m. while the floodwaters were still low.

"Suddenly, there was a very strong rush of water," the man, who was not identified, told a local TV station.

The floodwaters were waist-high in some neighborhoods that do not usually experience flooding. Scores of residents escaped the floods by climbing onto the roofs of their homes, Iligan Mayor Lawrence Cruz said.

Those missing included prominent radio broadcaster Enie Alsonado, who was swept away while trying to save his neighbors, Cruz said.

Rep. Rufus Rodriguez of Cagayan de Oro said that about 20,000 residents of the city had been affected and that evacuees were packed in temporary shelters.

Television footage showed muddy water rushing in the streets, sweeping away all sorts of debris. Thick layers of mud coated streets where the waters had subsided. One car was shown to have been carried over a concrete fence.

Authorities recovered bodies from the mud after the water subsided. Parts of concrete walls and roofs, toppled vehicles and other debris littered the streets.

Rescuers in boats rushed offshore to save people swept out to sea. In Misamis Oriental province, 60 people were plucked from the ocean off El Salvador city, about 6 miles (10 kilometers) northwest of Cagayan de Oro, said disaster official Teddy Sabuga-a.

About 120 more were rescued off Opol township, closer to the city, he added.

Cruz said the coast guard and other rescuers were scouring the waters off Iligan for survivors or bodies that may have been swept away.

Tropical Storm Washi dumped on Mindanao more than a month of average rains in just 12 hours.

It quickly cut across the region overnight and headed for Palawan province southwest of Manila on Saturday night.

Forecaster Leny Ruiz said that the records show that storms that follow Washi's track come only once in about 12 years.

Lucilo Bayron, vice mayor of Puerto Princesa in Palawan, said he already mobilized emergency crews but local officials have not ordered an evacuation yet because the weather was still fine.

AP

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