Three dead, thousands flee southern Philippines' floods as tropical storm batters region

Residents help each other out from their inundated neighborhoods after rains spawned by a tropical storm, locally known as Seniang, caused flooding in Misamis Oriental on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao on Dec 29, 2014. Three people w
Residents help each other out from their inundated neighborhoods after rains spawned by a tropical storm, locally known as Seniang, caused flooding in Misamis Oriental on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao on Dec 29, 2014. Three people were killed, one is missing and thousands fled their homes as a tropical storm battered the southern Philippines with strong winds and heavy rain, officials said. -- PHOTO: AFP

BUTUAN, Philippines (AFP) - Three people were killed, one is missing and thousands fled their homes as a tropical storm battered the southern Philippines with strong winds and heavy rain, officials said Monday.

The storm, locally named “Seniang” and with winds of up to 80 kilometres per hour, slammed into the main southern island of Mindanao before dawn, then crossed to the central islands, the government weather station said.

In the Mindanao city of Tagum, a bus skidded off a rain-soaked road late Sunday, leaving one passenger dead and 17 injured, said provincial police chief Senior Superintendent Samuel Gadingan.

In the mountainous town of Monkayo, a 65-year-old man drowned as he tried to cross a river while one person was killed by a tree uprooted by fierce winds in Butuan City, other officials said. Another man was swept away while collecting coconuts on a riverbank in Compostela town and is still missing, said regional disaster relief official Raul Villocino.

Landslides were also reported in the Monkayo area but no deaths were reported, Villocino added.

In Surigao del Sur province on Mindanao, a total of 13,740 people were evacuated in eight towns, Governor Johnny Pimentel told AFP. 

"The rains are very strong and there has been no let-up in the last three days," Pimentel said. He said he declared a “state of calamity” in the province to let local authorities tap into additional funding for relief supplies.

Flood waters as deep as 1.5m were reported in some areas as rescuers in rubber boats rushed to aid residents trapped in their homes, he said.

The storm's winds had felled trees and blown roofs off shanties, he added.

“This is the first time that my house was flooded,” Agusan del Sur Vice-Governor Santiago Cane said by phone.

Seniang was forecast to bring "heavy to intense" rains within its 300km diameter, as it packed wind gusts of 80 kmh.

The storm, moving west at 11km per hour, is expected to cross the central Philippines in the next two days.

Two flights from the capital to the region were cancelled on Monday, the Manila airport authority said in a statement.

Surigao del Sur, in the poor farming region of Caraga, is one of the Philippines' most flood-prone provinces.

The Philippines is battered by about 20 storms every year, many of them deadly.

Earlier this month, Super Typhoon Hagupit left 18 people dead after it lashed central provinces with 210 kmh winds.

A year earlier, Super Typhoon Haiyan, the strongest ever to hit land, left 7,350 people dead or missing in the same region as it stirred tsunami-like waves, wiping out entire towns.