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At Least 200 Killed, Thousands Displaced in Philippines Storm

At Least 200 Killed, Thousands Displaced in Philippines Storm

Sunday, 24 December, 2017 - 11:00
A man and his motorcycle are transported on a makeshift raft, after a bridge was destroyed by flash floods in southern Philippines, December 23, 2017. (Reuters)

A tropical storm that has been lashing the Philippines since Friday has left more than 200 people dead and thousands displaced.

Scores are also missing in the southern Philippines after Tropical Storm Tembin triggered severe flooding and landslides.

Police said 144 people remained missing while more than 40,000 had fled their homes to evacuation camps as Tembin roared out into the South China Sea early Sunday.

Police and disaster officials said they expected the toll of about 200 dead to rise with more fatalities likely to be discovered in remote farm communities and coastal areas, as rescuers reached them and restored communication and power links.

On Mindanao island, home to 20 million people, at least one mountain village was wipe out, prompting a massive rescue operation.

The United Nations was ready to help the Philippines, a spokesman for UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said in a statement.

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 programs manager Patrick Elliott said in a statement.

The archipelago nation is pummeled 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 18 people perished in the province of Lanao del Sur in the center of the island.

One of the places hit hardest was the mountain village of Dalama, which was virtually wiped off the map as rampaging floodwaters carried away 103 houses.

Footage on ABS-CBN showed houses there destroyed or engulfed by floodwaters 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.

“It happened very fast, the flood waters quickly rose filling our house,” farmer Felipe Ybarsabal, 65, told Reuters by telephone, saying he and his family had to run to higher ground.

“We weren’t able to save anything from the house. There was no help from anyone because it was so fast. Everything was two to three meters under water in less than an hour.”

"We called for forced evacuation, preemptive 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.

In the town of Kabasalan in Zamboanga, dozens of families huddled in the homes of neighbors on Christmas Eve, two days after floods carried off 40 houses, killing three people with one other missing, said local civil defense 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.

The storm swept into the South China Sea before dawn 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 defense 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.

Last week, 46 people were killed in the central Philippines when a typhoon hit. In 2013, super typhoon Haiyan killed nearly 8,000 people and left 200,000 families homeless.

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