MANILA (REUTERS/AFP) – The death toll from a tropical storm in the southern Philippines rose to 182 early on Sunday (Dec 24), with 153 people still missing, police said, after rescuers pulled dozens of bodies from a swollen river.
Tropical Storm Tembin has lashed the nation’s second-largest island of Mindanao since Friday, triggering flash floods and mudslides.
The Philippines is pummelled by 20 major storms each year on average, many of them deadly. But Mindanao, home to 20 million people, is rarely hit.
Police, soldiers and volunteers used shovels to dig through mud and debris as they searched for bodies in the village of Dalama on Saturday.
“The river rose and most of the homes were swept away. The village is no longer there,” police officer Gerry Parami told AFP by telephone from nearby Tubod town.
Also on Saturday, rescuers retrieved bodies from the Salog River near the town of Sapad.
The bodies in Sapad had been swept downriver from a flooded town upstream called Salvador, Rando Salvacion, the Sapad town police chief, told AFP, while authorities in Salvador said other bodies were retrieved upstream.
Tubod, Salvador and Sapad are in Lanao del Norte, which is one of the provinces hardest hit by Tembin. Local police said 127 people have been confirmed dead in the province, with 72 missing.
“The people received ample warnings. But as we are rarely hit by typhoons, people living near rivers did not take them seriously,” Salvador police chief Wilson Mislores told AFP.
‘UNFORTUNATE’ SO NEAR CHRISTMAS
The death toll for Mindanao’s Zamboanga peninsula also rose to 28, and police said 81 people were missing after mud and rocks swept down coastal communities in Sibuco and other fishing towns.
Landslides had blocked rescue and relief convoys to the impoverished region, officials said Saturday.
Tembin hit Balabac, a fishing island of 40,000 people in the western Philippines, on Saturday afternoon with gusts of 145kmh, the state weather service said.
One man was killed by a crocodile while he was securing his boat as the storm closed in this week on the western island of Palawan, a police report said Saturday.
Tembin struck less than a week after Tropical Storm Kai-Tak left 54 dead and 24 missing in the central Philippines, straining the disaster-prone nation’s resources.
“It is unfortunate that another tropical cyclone... made its presence felt so near Christmas,” Harry Roque, President Rodrigo Duterte’s spokesman, said in a statement.
Roque vowed continued government aid to the affected communities, but Romina Marasigan, spokeswoman for the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, described the situation as “challenging”.
The deadliest typhoon to hit the country was Haiyan, which killed thousands and destroyed entire towns in heavily populated areas of the central Philippines in November 2013.