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Philippines steps up flood relief efforts
Frantic search for survivors continues after torrential rains claim the lives of 652 people, with 808 others missing.
Last Modified: 18 Dec 2011 18:19
Death toll rises with thousands feared missing in southern Philippines in wake of typhoon and flooding [Al Jazeera]

A massive rescue operation is under way in the southern Philippines where more than 652 people are confirmed to have been killed in the wake of torrential rains.

"The affected area is so wide and huge and I believe they have not really gone to all areas to do a search"

- Gwen Pang,
Philippine National Red Cross

At least 808 are still missing after a typhoon struck the cities of Iligan and Cagayan De Oro, causing flash floods and landslides and driving tens of thousands from their homes, authorities told Al Jazeera on Sunday.

However, rescue and relief efforts are being hampered by power outages in many areas as well as by damaged and destroyed bridges, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council said.

The devastated port cities of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan in Mindanao island accounted for most of the deaths, according to the country's National Red Cross.

"The affected area is so wide and huge and I believe they have not really gone to all areas to do a search," Gwen Pang, the secretary-general of the Philippine National Red Cross, said.

But the count was expected to rise as more bodies were being discovered in nearby towns by the Philippine military.

'Caught by surprise'

Entire villages were swept away by floodwaters as residents, normally spared from typhoons that ravage other parts of the Philippines every year, slept in the early hours of Saturday despite storm warnings

Typhoon Washi, with winds gusting up to 90kph, barrelled into the resource-rich island of Mindanao late on Friday, bringing heavy rain that also grounded some domestic flights and left wide areas without power.

Officials said many people were caught by surprise when water rose one metre in less than an hour, forcing them onto roofs.

Philippines social welfare department estimate that  up to 100,000 people have been displaced [AFP]

Houses were swept into the sea by floodwaters while people were sleeping inside late on Friday.

"For me, this is the worst. Everywhere, you see places that before have been occupied by so many houses, now all of them have been washed away. While before we see all these vegetation, now all the trees have been uprooted," Lawrence Cruz, Iligan's city mayor, said.

"Even the bridge is swept away," he added.

More than 4000 people in flooded areas were moved to evacuation centres, the Provincial Disaster Agency in Manila said.

The Philippines social welfare department said up to 100,000 people were displaced and brought to nearly three dozen shelters in Iligan and Cagayan de Oro.

The national disaster agency said it could not estimate crop and property damage because emergency workers, including soldiers and police officers, were evacuating families and recovering casualties.

An average of 20 typhoons hit the Philippines every year, with most hitting Luzon, the largest and most populous island in the Southeast Asian archipelago.

Two typhoons, Nesat and Nalgae, hit the country within days of each other from late September, leaving more than 100 people dead, while tropical storm Banyan killed another eight people in October.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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