– Philippines tropical storm kills hundreds (Guardian, Dec. 17, 2011):
The death toll from the devastating flash floods that swept across the southern Philippines in the wake of a tropical storm has risen to more than 400.
The Philippine National Red Cross (PNRC) said 436 people are now confirmed dead based on a body count in funeral parlours.
The storm sent walls of water cascading through coastal cities in the country’s Mindanao group of islands, with 215 killed in Cagayan de Oro and 144 in nearby Iligan and the rest in other southern and central provinces, said the aid agency’s secretary general Gwen Pang.
She said the hardest-hit areas were in the cities of Iligan and Cagayan de Oro, with many houses being swept into the sea. Most of the dead were swept away while they slept when floodwaters tore through their homes following 12 hours of torrential rain.
Earlier Colonel Leopoldo Galon, an army spokesman, said emergency workers had recovered 97 bodies, most of them children, in Cagayan de Oro.“I can’t explain how these things happened, entire villages were swept to the sea by flash floods,” Galon told Reuters. He said the death toll was expected to rise.
“I have not seen anything like this before. This could be worse than Ondoy,” he said, referring to a 2009 storm that killed hundreds of people in the capital, Manila.
Iligan mayor Lawrence Cruz said many people were caught by surprise as rainfall from tropical storm Washi caused floodwaters to rise more than a metre in less than an hour.
“Most of them were already sleeping when floodwaters entered their homes,” he said. “This is the worst flooding our city had experienced in years.”
Floodwaters were waist-high in some neighbourhoods, with scores of residents scrambling onto their rooftops to escape the rising waters, Cruz said.
Ayi Hernandez, a former congressman, said he and his family were evacuated to a neighbour’s two-storey house after a loud “swooshing sound” brought water surging into their home.
“It was a good thing because in less than an hour the water rose to about 11 feet,” the height of the ceiling of his house, he said.
Rufus Rodriguez, a politician in Cagayan de Oro, said that about 20,000 residents of the city had been affected with evacuees being moved to temporary shelters.
As the floodwaters subsided, rescuers in boats search coastlines for survivors swept out to sea. About 180 people were pulled alive from the ocean off the northern coast of Mindanao, said Teddy Sabuga-a, a disaster official.
Benito Ramos, a civil defence administrater, said 18 drowned in floodwaters in central Negros Oriental province, where the centre of the storm, which packed winds of up to 56 miles per hour, hit on Saturday.
Ramos said the high casualties caused by Washi, the 19th storm in the Philippines this year, could be attributed “partly to the complacency of people because they are not in the usual path of storms” despite four days of warnings by officials.
Forecasters say the storm is expected to blow out of the country late on Sunday.