The death toll from flash floods and landslides caused by torrential rains due to a tropical depression in the eastern Philippines has jumped to at least 68, officials have said, warning that the number of fatalities will climb even higher.
Fifty-seven of the victims were reported in the eastern region of Bicol, located south of the main island of Luzon, civil defence officials said on Monday. Eleven others died in the nearby region of Eastern Visayas.
Twelve people were also injured in various accidents in the two regions most affected by the rains even days before the tropical depression – known locally as Usman – made landfall in Eastern Samar province on Saturday.
“I am afraid this (death toll) will still go up because there are a lot of areas we still have to clear,” said Claudio Yucot, Bicol civil defence director.
More than 22,000 people were displaced by the bad weather, which also knocked out electricity in many of the affected areas, regional civil defence officials said.
Search and rescue operations were ongoing for the missing, while emergency teams were also clearing some roads and bridges made impassable by landslides and floods.
Meanwhile, thousands of passengers were stranded at seaports, airports and bus terminals as dozens of inter-island trips were cancelled.
The tropical depression weakened into a low-pressure area, but was continuing to bring heavy rains over the eastern provinces, enhanced by a cold front and the northeast monsoon, the weather bureau said.
The bad weather would also affect the capital, Manila, and other parts of the country, which could dampen usually rowdy New Year’s Eve celebrations.
Each year, the Philippines is struck by an average of 20 cyclones causing floods, landslides and other accidents.
One of the strongest in recent memory, Typhoon Haiyan, hit the country in November 2013, killing more than 6,300 people and displacing more four million others.