Typhoon Bopha death toll rises in Philippines

319 people reported missing in New Bataan town

Stunned parents searching for missing children examined a row of mud-stained bodies covered with banana leaves while survivors dried their soaked belongings on roadsides today, a day after a powerful typhoon killed more than 280 people in the southern Philippines.

Officials fear more bodies may be found as rescuers reach hard-hit areas that were isolated by landslides, floods and downed communications. 

At least 151 people died in the worst-hit province of Compostela Valley when Typhoon Bopha lashed the region on Tuesday, including 78 villagers and soldiers who perished in a flash flood that swamped two emergency shelters and a military camp, provincial spokeswoman Fe Maestre said. 

About 80 people survived the deluge in New Bataan town with injuries, but between 50 and 319 others remain missing, according to varying estimates by government officials and the army. 

The farming town of 45,000 people was a muddy wasteland of collapsed houses and coconut and banana trees felled by Bopha's ferocious winds. 

On a roadside, dozens of mud-stained bodies were laid side-by-side, covered by cloth and banana leaves and surrounded by villagers. A man sprayed insecticide on the remains to keep away swarms of flies. 

A father wept when he lifted a plastic cover and found the body of his child. A mother, meanwhile, went away in tears, unable to find her missing children. "I have three children," she said repeatedly, flashing three fingers before a TV cameraman. 

Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, who visited the devastated town, said a day of searching by soldiers and volunteers did not turn up any of the 319 people reported missing in New Bataan. 

"These were whole families among the registered missing," Roxas told the ABS-CBN TV network. "Entire families may have been washed away." 

In nearby Davao Oriental, the coastal province first struck by the typhoon as it blew inland from the Pacific Ocean, at least 115 people perished, mostly in three towns that were so battered that it was hard to find any buildings with roofs remaining, provincial officer Freddie Bendulo and other officials said. 

"We had a problem where to take the evacuees. All the evacuation centers have lost their roofs," Davao Oriental Gov. Corazon Malanyaon said. 

Disaster-response agencies reported 13 other typhoon-related deaths elsewhere. 

Unlike the previous day's turbulent weather, the sun was shining brightly today, prompting residents to lay their soaked clothes, books and other belongings out on roadsides to dry and revealing the extent of the damage to farmland. Thousands of banana trees in one Compostela Valley plantation were toppled by the wind, the young bananas still wrapped in blue plastic covers. 

After slamming into Davao Oriental and Compostela Valley, Bopha roared quickly across the southern Mindanao and central regions, knocking out power in two entire provinces, triggering landslides and leaving houses and plantations damaged. More than 170,000 fled to evacuation centers. 

The typhoon, one of the strongest to hit the country this year, had blown past southwestern Palawan province into the South China Sea by midday Wednesday and could head to either Vietnam or southern China, according to government forecasters. 

The deaths came despite efforts by President Benigno Aquino III's government to force residents out of high-risk communities as the typhoon approached. 

Some 20 typhoons and storms lash the northern and central Philippines each year, but they rarely hit the vast southern Mindanao region. 

A rare storm in the south last December killed more than 1,200 people and left many more homeless. 

The United States extended its condolences and offered to help its Asian ally deal with the typhoon's devastation. It praised government efforts to minimize the deaths and damage.

AP

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