Philippines storm kills hundreds in Mindanao floods

Aerial footage shows the extent of the flooding

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A tropical storm has hit the southern Philippines, triggering flash floods that officials say have killed more than 430 people and left many missing.

An army spokesman said many villagers on the north coast of Mindanao island were swept into the sea after Tropical Storm Washi brought heavy rain.

Iligan and Cagayan de Oro cities have been hard hit, with many victims asleep as the floods swept into their homes.

Tens of thousands of people have fled to higher ground, the authorities say.

Analysis

The Philippines usually has about 20 major storms and typhoons a year.

But this one caught the people of northern Mindanao by surprise, as it's an area which is usually bypassed by the worst of the country's extreme weather.

This is the most ferocious storm to hit the region since the 1970s.

Officials say they warned residents about Washi's approach on Friday, but many people dismissed the dangers and went to bed as normal, only to wake up as the waters rapidly rose.

Benito Ramos, head of the national disaster rescue agency, said the floodwaters had risen alarmingly fast overnight.

"Massive flooding had been reported over the region, especially in Iligan City and Cagayan de Oro City," he said

Rivers burst their banks after more than 12 hours of continuous rain.

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

Philippine National Red Cross Secretary General Gwen Pang said at least 430 people had been killed.

She said 215 people had been killed in Cagayan de Oro and 144 in Iligan. The figures were based on a count of bodies brought to funeral parlours, she told Associated Press news agency.

Start Quote

The owner of our hotel received a call around 06:00 from the captain [of a capsized ship] in tears saying the pump had stopped working and he was not able to bail the water out fast enough”

End Quote Mark Donkin in Dumaguete
'Worst flood'

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

He said search and rescue operations would continue along the north shore of Mindanao, where many people had been swept into the sea.

"I can't explain how these things happened," he said. "Entire villages were swept into the sea by flash floods."

"I have not seen anything like this before. This could be worse than Ondoy," Col Galon said, referring to a 2009 storm, also known as Ketsana, that flooded Manila, killing more than 400 people.

Officials said dozens of people had been pulled from the sea in the region but many were still missing.

Large areas were left without power and some domestic flights were cancelled as winds of up to 90 km/h (55mph) swept across the island.

Tracking Tropical Storm Washi

Floods had swamped a quarter of Iligan and at least 10 villages on its outskirts, said the city's mayor, Lawrence Cruz.

"It's the worst flood in the history of our city," Mr Cruz told GMA television. "It happened so fast, at a time when people were fast asleep."

Residents described the floodwaters rising rapidly.

"In less than an hour the water rose to about 11 feet (3.3m)," Ayi Hernandez, a former member of congress, was quoted as saying by Associated Press news agency.

Emergency officials said tens of thousands of people had been forced out of their homes and were staying in more than a dozen shelters in Cagayan de Oro and Iligan.

Map of Philippines

Damage to Mindanao's important agricultural sector is thought to be massive.

Forecasters said the eye of Tropical Storm Washi had passed close to Dipolog City, west of Iligan, early on Saturday before heading over the Sulu Sea on its way to Palawan island.

The Philippines are struck by about 20 major storms every year but most of them take a more northerly track, hitting Luzon island.

Typhoons Nesat and Nalgae battered the country within days of each other in September, leaving more than 100 people dead. Both storms struck Luzon.

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