Rescuers search for Philippine storm victims as toll rises to 200

By Manuel Mogato

MANILA (Reuters) – Rescuers in the Philippines searched on Sunday for survivors of a storm that triggered floods and landslides and killed about 200 people, left scores missing and thousands homeless, most of whom apparently ignored warnings to move to safety.

Misery in the largely Christian Philippines was compounded by the death of at least 37 people in a shopping mall fire, officials said on Christmas Eve.

The Philippines is battered by about 20 typhoons a year and warnings are routinely issued, but the level of destruction wreaked by tropical storm Tembin on the southern island of Mindanao from late on Friday came as a surprise.

“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.”

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.

Disaster officials said 159 people were listed as missing while about 70,000 had been forced from their homes.

Soldiers and police joined emergency workers and volunteers to search for survivors and victims, clear debris and restore power and communications.

Disaster officials said many villagers had ignored warnings to leave coastal areas and move away from riverbanks, and got swept away when flash floods and landslides struck.

The storm was moving west on Sunday, over some outlying Philippine islands and the South China Sea toward southern Vietnam, at a speed of about 20 kph (12 mph).

It intensified into a typhoon with winds of 120 kph (75 mph) as it moved out of the Philippine area of responsibility, the national meteorological agency…

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