Philippines Storm Death Toll Exceeds 650


By AP / BULLIT MARQUEZ AND JIM GOMEZ Sunday, Dec. 18, 2011
(ILIGAN, Philippines) — As a storm that killed more than 650 in the southern Philippines raged outside the store where she works, Amor Limbago worriedly called home to check on her parents, but their cellphones just kept ringing and later went dead.

Limbago, 21, rushed home as soon as the flash floods receded and confirmed her worst fear: Her parents and seven other relatives were gone, swept away from their hut by the river. They had eagerly planned a small Christmas dinner in that hut just days earlier. “I returned and saw that our house was completely gone,” a weeping Limbago told The Associated Press from Cagayan de Oro city. “There was nothing but mud all over and knee-deep floodwaters.”

Tropical Storm Washi blew away Sunday after devastating a wide swath of the mountainous region on Mindanao island, which is unaccustomed to major storms. It killed at least 652 people and left more than 900 others missing, the Philippine Red Cross said.

Most of the victims were asleep Friday night when flash floods cascaded down mountain slopes with logs and uprooted trees, swelling rivers. The late-season tropical storm turned the worst-hit coastal cities of Cagayan de Oro and nearby Iligan into muddy wastelands filled with overturned cars and broken trees. Most of the dead were children and women, Red Cross Secretary General Gwendolyn Pang said.

The government’s Office of Civil Defense placed the number of dead at 516 with 274 missing and 431 others rescued. Its head, Benito Ramos, said he expected the toll to rise and added that the government count was slower because authorities try to identify each casualty by verifying it with relatives.

Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and top military officials flew to Cagayan de Oro and Iligan to help oversee search-and-rescue efforts and deal with about 45,000 displaced villagers. Among the items urgently needed are coffins and body bags, said Benito Ramos, who heads the government’s disaster-response agency. “It’s overwhelming. We didn’t expect these many dead,” said Ramos, adding that authorities were continuing to find bodies floating at sea.

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