Tropical Storm Washi raked across the southern Philippines, unleashing mammoth floods across vast areas that left more than 200 people dead and nearly 400 more missing, officials said yesterday.
They said 20,000 soldiers had been mobilized in a huge rescue and relief operation across the stricken north coast of the island of Mindanao, where the major ports of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan were worst hit.
The Philippine National Red Cross (PNRC) said 256 people were killed in flash floods in Mindanao and another island. Soldiers and police were recovering more bodies washed ashore in nearby towns.
“The death toll might still rise because there are still a lot of missing people,” PNRC secretary-general Gwendolyn Pang said.
Iligan Mayor Lawrence Cruz described rampaging floodwaters from swollen rivers that swamped up to a quarter of the land area of the city of 100,000.
“It’s the worst flood in the history of our city,” Cruz told GMA television. “It happened so fast, at a time when people were fast asleep.”
The station showed dramatic pictures of a family escaping out of the window of their home in the town as the floods rose and rescue workers in orange vests shepherding survivors to safety above chest-deep waters.
Marlyn Manos, an Iligan resident, recounted how she and her children watched in terror from their rooftop as flash floods demolished neighbors’ homes.
“All the small houses behind ours were destroyed and many of my neighbors are missing,” she said.
As of press time, the Red Cross’ figures put the death toll in Iligan at 144. Another 86 were killed in Cagayan de Oro, many of them children.
The national disaster agency put the death toll at 131, but other government officials also said at least 256 people had been killed.
The Philippine Department of Social Welfare and Development said about 100,000 people were displaced and brought to more than a dozen shelters in Iligan and Cagayan de Oro.
Fifteen people who were swept out to sea were rescued off Iligan, but another 250 remained unaccounted for in the town, the region’s military spokesmen said, with 125 more missing in Cagayan de Oro, a city of half a million people.
Three people also drowned in the town of Polanco, the Philippine National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council said in Manila.
Five miners were killed in a landslide in Monkayo on Mindanao and another 21 people drowned on the central island of Negros, the PNRC said.
The western island of Palawan was expected to be hit last night with peak winds of 75kph after Washi crosses the Sulu Sea, the state weather service said.
The disaster council’s executive director Benito Ramos suggested some Mindanao residents had underestimated the threat posed by the approaching storm, in a region that is outside the country’s typhoon belt.
“Storms rarely hit this area and people probably became complacent even though they knew it was heading their way,” Ramos said.
Eric Carillo, an Iligan resident, told GMA the rains started pouring heavily late on Friday, but his family, who emerged alive from the floods, were not unduly alarmed and did not seek higher ground.
“I’ve been around for 47 years and this was the worst flooding I have ever experienced,” he said.
Iligan tourism officer Pat Noel said waters began rising shortly before midnight on Friday as people slept, sweeping houses made of light materials and their inhabitants along the riverbanks.