More than 600 dead after storm in Philippines

Dec 17, 2011 12:00 AM

More than 600 people have been killed in flash floods and landslides after a tropical storm ravaged sleeping communities in the southern Philippines. Hundreds are missing and tens of thousands have been left homeless.
Rescue efforts continued in the southern Philippines after two cities were left devastated by tropical storm Washi.

More than 600 people were killed as pounding rain swelled rivers, triggering flash floods and landslides across the north coast of the island of Mindanao at 2:30 a.m. local time. Tens of thousands of people have been left homeless and hundreds are still unaccounted for, with the death toll expected to rise.
Among the worst hit cities were Cagayan de Oro, which reported 252 dead, and nearby Iligan which lost 195 residents. Many of the victims were caught in their beds as floodwaters tore through coastal communities and swept the dead out to sea.

"It's the worst flood in the history of our city," Iligan mayor Lawrence Cruz told. "It happened so fast, at a time when people were fast asleep."
The channel carried pictures of a family escaping out of the window of their home in the town as the floods rose and rescue workers carrying survivors to safety as wind speeds reached up to 90 km/h (56 mph).

Massive rescue operation
According to the Philippines Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman, the flooding has affected more than 22,000 families. Around 100,000 people are believed to have been displaced. Many have already been brought to the dozen evacuation centres set up in Iligan and Cagayan de Oro.
Some 20,000 soldiers have been mobilized across affected areas to help with rescue efforts.

Disaster official Teddy Sabuga-a said 60 people had been rescued from the ocean off El Salvador city, about six miles (10 km) from Cagayan de Oro. A further 120 more were rescued closer to the city, he added.
But with many roads cut off and no electricity, relief efforts have been severely hampered.

Unaccustomed to serious storms
Mindanao residents had been informed of the dangers posed by the storm days four days earlier but many failed to heed evacuation warnings.
"They were warned [about the approaching storm], but they did not go into pre-emptive evacuation," Benito Ramos, head of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, told in the capital, Manila.

Ramos attributed the high number of casualties partly to the "complacency of people" who are not in the usual path of storms. Mindanao is rarely struck by the tropical storms which are more common elsewhere in the archipelago nation.
The western island of Palawan is expected to be hit by the storm with slightly weakened peak winds. It is expected to then exit the Philippines the next day.

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