At least 436 people have been killed in widespread flooding in the southern Philippines, as tropical storm Washi raked across the region, the Philippine Red Cross said.
The Red Cross, told the Associated Press on Saturday that the death toll had reached 436 across three cities. He said thousands of people had sought shelter in evacuation centres in the area.
“We’re counting about 20,000 families in the evacuation centres in several provinces,” Gordon said.
“The Red Cross is going to be sending 10,000 food items as well as 5,000 non-food items for 10,000 families so that we can immediately give alleviation of the suffering.”
Regional military spokesmen told reporters 97 bodies were recovered in Cagayan de Oro, a major port on Mindanao island, and 75 were found in Iligan, a nearby southern port, accounting for most of the deaths.
They said 375 people were still missing from the two cities alone.
Colonel Leopoldo Galon told reporters that army troops using trucks, boats, and helicopters had rescued at least 2,000 residents of Cagayan de Oro.
Separately, Lieutenant-Colonel Randolph Cabangbang said 15 people who had been swept to sea off Iligan had been rescued.
Al Jazeera’s Marga Ortigas, reporting from the Philippines, said that thousands of soldiers are now involved in the rescue operations. “[The operations] are expected to go on through the night, as they are still pulling out more bodies, so they are expecting the death toll to rise.”
Gwendolyn Pang, secretary-general of the Red Cross in the Philippines told Al Jazeera from Manila that though the flood water had receded in many areas, officials were still receiving reports of deaths and landslides.
“Storms rarely hit this area and people probably became complacent even though they knew it was heading their way”
– Benito Ramos, government director
She went on to say that the people in some of the affected ares were having trouble coping with the floods, “because it is completely unprecedented”.
In Iligan, Lawrence Cruz, the city’s mayor, described rampaging floodwaters from swollen rivers that swamped at least 10 villages on the city’s outskirts.
“It happened so fast, at a time when people were fast asleep,” Cruz told a local television station.
The station showed dramatic pictures of a family escaping out of the window of their home as floodwaters rose, and rescue workers in orange vests escorting survivors to safety above chest-deep floodwaters.
Ramos said 25 millimetres of rain had fallen over the past 24 hours, swelling rivers and swiftly inundating low-lying areas.
“Storms rarely hit this area and people probably became complacent even though they knew it was heading their way,” Benito Ramos, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council director, said on Saturday.
Eye of the storm
Weather forecasters said the eye of the storm passed close to Dipolog city near Iligan early on Saturday and Washi was now heading out to the Sulu Sea.
The large western island of Palawan to the northwest lies directly in the path of the storm, with winds of 65km an hour.
Mindanao is a largely agricultural area that is considered the country’s breadbasket.
The Philippines is struck by about 20 major storms annually, with most hitting Luzon, the largest and most populous island in the Southeast Asian archipelago.