More than 200 people have been killed and scores were missing in the southern Philippines on Sunday after a tropical storm triggered severe flooding and landslides that also wrecked Christmas for tens of thousands of survivors.
Tropical Storm Tembin lashed Mindanao island, home to 20 million people, on Friday with strong gusts and torrential rain, wiping out at least one mountain village and prompting a massive rescue operation.
Police said 208 people were confirmed dead and 164 remained missing, while more than 40 000 had fled their homes for evacuation camps as Tembin roared out into the South China Sea early Sunday.
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.
Another 26 people perished with 20 missing in the province of Lanao del Sur
The archipelago nation is pummelled by major storms every year, many of them deadly. Mindanao tends to be less affected and officials said this may have caused many to ignore warnings to move to safer ground.
Footage showed vast tracts of land on the island submerged by brown water, often waist-deep, with streets turning into rivers.
Local police said 135 people were killed and 72 missing in the northern section of Mindanao, while 47 were dead and 72 missing in the impoverished Zamboanga peninsula on its western side.
Another 26 people perished with 20 missing in the province of Lanao del Sur in the centre of the island, based on an updated official tally there.
One of the places hit hardest was the mountain village of Dalama, which was virtually wiped off the map as roaring floodwater carried away 103 houses.
Footage on ABS-CBN showed houses there destroyed or engulfed by floodwater 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.
Pope Francis praying for storm victims
In the town of Kabasalan in Zamboanga, dozens of families huddled in the homes of neighbours on Christmas Eve, two days after floods carried off 40 houses, killing three people with one missing, said local civil defence chief Junalyn Maravillo.
“This is a disaster. They don’t think about Christmas. All they think about is what they will eat for today,” she told AFP.
Pope Francis said in Rome he was praying for storm victims in the Philippines, where some 80% of the population is Catholic.
“May the merciful God welcome the souls of the dead and comfort those who suffer from this calamity,” he said.
The storm swept into the South China Sea before dawn on Sunday after hitting the western tourist island of Palawan overnight Saturday, the state weather service said.
“So far zero casualties, but we have accounts of some people missing,” Palawan civil defence chief Zaldy Ablana told DZMM radio on Sunday.
But in a Palawan fishing village, a 53-year-old man was killed by a crocodile while securing his boat in a river.
Tembin struck less than a week after Tropical Storm Kai-Tak left scores dead and more than 20 missing in the central Philippines, straining the disaster-prone nation’s already stretched resources.
The deadliest typhoon to hit the country is still Haiyan, which killed thousands and destroyed entire towns in heavily populated areas of the central Philippines in November 2013.