Tue, Nov 23, 2004 - Page 5 News List

58 fisherman lost, feared dead after Philippines storm

DEADLY WEATHER The fisherman's vessels were likely capsized by strong winds and massive waves after tropical storm Muifa suddenly changed course

AFP , Manila

Fifty-eight fishermen were missing and feared drowned yesterday as the death toll from a severe storm that battered the Philippines rose to 24, officials said.

Hopes were fading for dozens of fishermen who were lost at sea south of the main island of Luzon when tropical storm Muifa unexpectedly changed course and struck the region on Friday.

Coastguard spokesman Armando Balilo said the missing men had spent more than 48 hours in raging waters and that aerial searches of the region were underway.

"We are using choppers [helicopters] to look for them," he said.

Balilo said the authorities were checking reports that four of the missing were washed ashore in the central island of Romblon. He could not say whether the four were alive or dead.

After lashing the Bicol peninsula early last week, Muifa went for a second pass at the weekend before plowing through the islands of Marinduque, Mindoro and Coron on its way to the South China Sea.

Forty-three fishing boats and two tugboats with a total of 58 crewmen on board were unaccounted for off Mindoro, Marinduque, Romblon, the Coron island group and off the Bondoc peninsula near Bicol, the civil defense office said in an updated report.

Big waves and strong winds sank or capsized the vessels on Saturday, killing two other crew members. Thirty-four other crew members were rescued by other vessels.

The government agency reported three other deaths by drowning, two by hypothermia, one struck by a falling tree, five by a tornado near Roxas town on Mindoro, and 11 others due to unspecified causes.

Three other people are also missing, while 79 were injured.

Muifa destroyed or damaged more than 27,000 houses and displaced more than 60,000 people, it added.

The storm wrought 73 million pesos (US$1.3 million) in damage to crops and infrastructure, the civil defense office said.

Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman said food and assistance were being rushed to the heavily hit areas.

"We will start giving emergency shelter assistance. Many houses have lost their roofs, if not totally damaged," Soliman said.

"We have been coordinating with the agencies and have provided relief, basically rice, because that is what they need," she said.

Muifa is now churning west in the South China Sea toward southern Vietnam, but the weather bureau said they are monitoring an active low pressure area in the Philippine Sea east of Luzon, which they said could develop into a storm or typhoon.

About 20 typhoons or storms hit the Southeast Asian archipelago every year, claiming an annual average of about 500 lives, according to official figures.

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