19 Dec 2011

Search continues for Philippines flood victims

10:42 pm on 19 December 2011

Rescuers are continuing to search for survivors after flash floods killed more than 600 people in the southern Philippines.

Soldiers and volunteers are still searching for the 800 people reported missing on southern Mindanao island, the BBC reports.

Officials say many bodies remain unclaimed, which suggests that entire families were swept away.

The BBC reports many of the victims were asleep when a tropical storm struck Mindanao island, swamping the cities of Iligan and Cagayan de Oro.

About 20,000 soldiers have been mobilised in a massive rescue and relief operation across the stricken north coast and authorities say tens of thousands of people have fled to higher ground.

Up to 16,000 people have been left homeless.

Benito Ramos, head of the national disaster rescue agency, said reports were still coming in and the casualty figures could rise.

Mr Ramos said the floodwaters had risen alarmingly fast overnight as people slept.

Rivers burst their banks after 25mm of rain fell in 24 hours, coinciding with high tides.

Large areas were left without power and some domestic flights were cancelled as winds of up to 90 km/h swept across the island.

A military spokesman, Colonel Leopoldo Galon, said an entire army division - some 10,000 soldiers - was involved in the rescue effort around Cagayan de Oro.

Television pictures of the aftermath showed smashed homes and cars and debris strewn across streets, clogging drainage canals.

Philippine National Red Cross Secretary General Gwen Pang says 215 people were killed in Cagayan de Oro and 144 in Iligan.

The figures were based on a count of bodies brought to funeral parlours. The rest died in several other southern and central provinces, she added.

Forecasters said the eye of Tropical Storm Washi had passed close to Dipolog City, west of Iligan City, early on Saturday and it then headed out into the Sulu Sea.