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436 killed in Philippines storm

Cagayan de Oro (Philippines), Dec. 17 (Reuters): More than 400 people were killed and an unknown number were missing after a typhoon struck the southern Philippines, causing flash floods and landslides and driving tens of thousands from their homes.

In a text message to Reuters, Gwendolyn Pang, secretary-general of the Philippine National Red Cross (PNRC), said the death toll of 436 was expected to rise.

“Our death toll was based on the actual number of bodies that were brought to funeral homes in the two cities that were the hardest hit by the typhoon,” Pang said, adding it was difficult to estimate how many were still unaccounted for.

Typhoon Washi, with winds gusting up to 90kmph, barrelled into the resource-rich island of Mindanao late yesterday, bringing heavy rain that also grounded some domestic flights and left wide areas without power.

Emergency workers, soldiers and police were recovering more bodies most covered in mud washed ashore in nearby towns.

Pang said nearly 360 bodies had been found in the cities of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan and about 50 in four other southern provinces. The government’s official death toll stood only at 131 people and nearly 270 missing.

Another 21 people drowned on the central island of Negros, the PNRC said.

Hundreds were also unaccounted for, most of them from a coastal village in Iligan. Houses were swept into the sea by floodwaters while people were sleeping late yesterday.

The Philippines social welfare department said about 100,000 people were displaced and brought to nearly three dozen shelters in Iligan and Cagayan de Oro.

Army spokesman Col Leopoldo Galon said search and rescue operations would continue along the shorelines in Misamis Oriental and Lanao del Norte provinces.        

“I can’t explain how these things happened, entire villages were swept to the sea by flash floods,” Galon said.        

“I have not seen anything like this before. This could be worse than Ondoy,” he said, referring to a 2009 storm that inundated the capital, Manila, killing hundreds of people.        

Television pictures showed bodies encased in mud, cars piled on top of each other and wrecked homes.

“We ran for our lives when we heard a loud whistle blow and was followed by a big bang,” Michael Mabaylan, 38, a carpenter, told Reuters.

 
 
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