They said on Sunday 77 people were confirmed to have died while another 123 were still missing and were feared dead after heavy rains triggered flooding and landslides in the central island of Leyte and the southern island of Mindanao since late on Friday.

Government officials said most of the people were asleep when the landslides hit the San Francisco and Liloan towns in Southern Leyte province late on Friday.

About 300 people were evacuated to safer areas after troops rushed to the disaster zone to rescue victims trapped under mud and debris dumped from the nearby hills, officials said.

"This is the worst experience we have had in years," said Rosette Lerias, governor of the province.

Officials earlier said at least 70 people were killed.

Lerias said bad weather, blocked roads and a power outage in the region were hampering rescue work.

Rescuers hampered

"We experienced unusually heavy rains during the last six days," she said. "The rains triggered the landslides."
 
The military was planning to send helicopters and rubber boats to speed up rescue operations, she said.

"Thank God, there was no typhoon," Lerias said, adding that a low pressure area northeast of the island was dumping rain in the region.

The country of 82 million people is hit by 17 to 20 typhoons a year.

The most destructive was Thelma, which struck in Leyte island in November 1991 and unleashed floods that killed about 5000 people.

Leyte province was the scene of the famous sea battle between US and Japanese forces during the second world war.