The death toll from mammoth floods unleashed in the southern Philippines by Tropical Storm Washi climbed to 652 with 808 others missing as of press time, the Red Cross said yesterday.
The devastated port cities of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan on Mindanao island accounted for most of the deaths, the agency said.
The head of the government’s disaster response agency, Benito Ramos, said their count stood at 516 deaths and 274 missing. However, he conceded that the death toll would likely go higher.
Philippine rescuers struggled against mud, fatigue and the stench of death yesterday to help the survivors of the devastating flash floods.
As bodies washed out to sea began rising to the surface, mortuaries were overwhelmed and emergency teams struggled to find survivors in cloying mud around Cagayan de Oro and Iligan.
Villages were swept away by floodwaters as residents, normally spared from typhoons that devastate other parts of the Philippines every year, slept in the early hours of Saturday despite storm warnings.
The US offered assistance to its former colony as the Philippine government and the Red Cross appealed for help to feed, clothe and house more than 35,000 people huddled in evacuation centers.
A 20,000-strong military force normally involved in fighting Muslim insurgents in Mindanao was leading rescue and relief operations.
Cagayan de Oro Mayor Vicente Emano said he expected the death toll to reach 500 in his city, which has a population of half a million.
The Red Cross listed 346 deaths in Cagayan de Oro and 206 in Iligan. Smaller tolls were reported in other parts of Mindanao and the central province of Negros Oriental.