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Tuesday 26 March 2019

120 dead and dozens more missing after tropical storm hits Philippines

Villagers cross raging flood waters in Lanao del Norte, Zamboanga Pennisula, southern Philippines (AP)
Villagers cross raging flood waters in Lanao del Norte, Zamboanga Pennisula, southern Philippines (AP)
Rescuers try to clear an area hit by mudslides

More than 120 people have died and 160 more are missing after a tropical storm in the southern Philippines unleashed flash floods that set off landslides, sweeping away people and houses.

Most of the deaths from Tropical Storm Tembin were in the hard-hit provinces of Lanao del Norte and Lanao del Sur and on the Zamboanga Peninsula, according to an initial government report.

Romina Marasigan of the government's disaster response agency earlier said authorities have reported at least 75 deaths due to landslides and sudden surges of floodwater, but initial reports are unconfirmed for now.

It is the latest disaster to hit the Philippines, which is battered by about 20 typhoons and storms each year, making the archipelago that lies on the Pacific typhoon belt one of the world's most disaster-prone countries.

A search and rescue operation is under way for more than 30 people swept away by flash floods in the fishing village of Anungan, Mayor Bong Edding of Zamboanga del Norte province's Sibuco town said. Five bodies have been recovered so far in the village.

Mr Edding said: "The floodwaters from the mountain came down so fast and swept away people and houses.

"It's really sad because Christmas is just a few days away, but these things happen beyond our control."

Mr Edding blamed years of logging in the mountains near Anungan for the tragedy that unfolded on Friday, adding that he and other officials would move to halt the logging operations.

The rest of the deaths were reported in Lanao del Norte, where floodwater from a mountain also swept away several riverside houses and villagers, and also in Lanao del Sur, police and officials said.

Lanao del Norte officials reported the highest death toll, with 64 fatalities and 139 missing. In Zamboanga del Norte province, officials reported at least 29 storm deaths with 19 others missing.

The storm left 21 dead and one missing in the lakeside province of Lanao del Sur, according to officials.

Thousands of villagers moved to emergency shelters and thousands more were stranded in airports and seaports after the coast guard prohibited ferries from venturing out in the rough seas and several flights were cancelled.

An inter-island ferry sank off north-eastern Quezon province on Thursday after being lashed by fierce winds and big waves, leaving at least five people dead. More than 250 passengers and crewmen were rescued.

Tembin, known locally as Vinta, strengthened and picked up speed late on Saturday, packing maximum sustained winds of 65mph and gusts of up to 90mph. It struck the southern section of western Palawan province late on Saturday and is forecast to blow away from the southern Philippines on Sunday towards the South China Sea.

"It is unfortunate that another tropical cyclone, Vinta, made its presence felt so near Christmas," presidential spokesman Harry Roque Jr said, adding that food packs and other aid is being distributed in storm-hit communities.

Earlier in the week, a tropical storm left more than 50 people dead and 31 others missing, mostly due to landslides, and damaged more than 10,000 houses in the central Philippines before weakening and blowing into the South China Sea.

Among the areas battered by Tembin was Marawi, a lakeside city in Lanao del Sur which was still recovering from a five-month siege by pro-Islamic State group extremists that left more than 1,000 people dead.

Press Association

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