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The Philippines

At least 200 dead after typhoon ravages southern Philippines

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 24 December, 2017, 4:27pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 24 December, 2017, 7:47pm

One of the deadliest storms to hit the Philippines this year blew out of the country’s south on Sunday after leaving more than 200 people dead in landslides and flash floods.

Police said 144 people remained missing while more than 40,000 had fled their homes to evacuation camps.

A total of 70,000 have been displaced or otherwise affected by the storm according to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), which warned that continued heavy rain could hamper the search for survivors.

“People left everything behind when they fled for their lives,” the IFRC’s Philippines operations and programmes manager Patrick Elliott said in a statement.

Tropical Storm Tembin strengthened into a typhoon before moving into the South China Sea. Most of the dead and missing were reported in the hard-hit provinces of Lanao del Norte and Lanao del Sur and on the Zamboanga Peninsula.

Intense rainfall in the mountains most likely caused landslides that blocked rainwater, said Marina Marasigan of the government’s disaster response agency. When the naturally formed dams broke from the pressure, torrents of rainwater smashed into the villages below.

Mayor Bong Edding of Sibuco town blamed logging operations in the mountains for flash food that swept away houses with more than 30 residents. Five bodies have been recovered so far in the village and a search and rescue was continuing.

A large number of dead and missing was also reported in Lanao del Norte and Lanao del Sur provinces, where floodwaters from a mountain washed away several riverside houses.

Marasigan asked the public to heed storm warnings and evacuation orders to avoid casualties.

“We’re really sad that we have this news especially because our countrymen were looking to celebrate Christmas,” Marasigan told a televised news conference.

One of the places hit hardest was the mountain village of Dalama, which was virtually wiped off the map as rampaging floodwaters carried away 103 houses.

Footage on ABS-CBN showed houses there destroyed or engulfed by floodwaters and rescuers retrieving the body of a girl buried in a landslide.

Police, soldiers and volunteers used shovels and their bare hands to dig through mud and debris in their search for survivors.

“The flood was already close and the people were not able to get out from their homes,” Armando Sangcopan, an elderly male survivor, told the station.

“We called for forced evacuation, pre-emptive evacuation in certain areas. We are saddened by the (large) numbers of casualties,” Romina Marasigan, spokeswoman for the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council told reporters in Manila.

Thousands of villagers fled to emergency shelters and more than 500 passengers were stranded in airports and seaports after the coastguard prohibited ferries from venturing out in the rough seas and several flights were cancelled as the storm raged on Saturday.

The typhoon was packing winds of up to 120km/h and gusts of up to 145km/h.

An inter-island ferry sank off northeastern Quezon province on Thursday after being lashed by fierce winds and big waves, leaving at least five people dead. More than 250 passengers and crewmen were rescued.

Pope Francis said he is praying for the population of Mindanao. He noted that the storm “has caused numerous victims and much destruction” as he greeted people in St Peter’s Square on Sunday, hours before he was set to celebrate Christmas Eve vigil mass.

Francis prayed that “merciful God receive the souls of the deceased and comfort all those who are suffering for this calamity”. He urged those in the square: “Let’s pray for these people.”

Earlier in the week, another tropical storm left more than 50 people dead and 31 others missing, mostly due to landslides, and damaged more than 10,000 houses in the central Philippines.

Among the areas battered by the latest storm was Marawi, a lakeside city in Lanao del Sur that is still recovering from a five-month siege by Islamist militants that left more than 1,000 people dead and forced the entire population of about 200,000 people to flee.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse