A rare storm has hit the Philippines' second-largest island of Mindanao, with at least 230 reported dead. Deforestation exacerbated the ferocity of the flash floods and mudslides.
Tropical Storm Tembin has claimed at least 230 lives across the southern Philippine island of Mindanao, police said early Sunday, as rescuers continue to search for more bodies. Scores of people are reported to be still missing.
The storm hit the Philippines' second-largest island on Friday, triggering flash floods and mudslides. While the Philippines is typically battered by an average of 20 major storms per year, they rarely hit Mindanao, which is home to 20 million people.
Rescuers recovered 36 bodies from the Salog River in Mindanao so far, and officials said another 28 deaths were reported on the impoverished peninsula of Zamboanga.
Meanwhile, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) said that 70,000 had been displaced as a result of the tropical storm.
Mayor Bong Edding of the town of Sibuco in Zamboanga del Norte province said more than 30 people were swept away by flash floods in the fishing village of Anungan but that five bodies had been recovered.
"The floodwaters from the mountain came down so fast and swept away people and houses," Edding said. "It's really sad because Christmas is just a few days away, but these things happen beyond our control."
Edding blamed years of deforestation in the mountains for the tragedy, adding that he and other officials would move to end the logging operations.
Police said another 81 were missing after mud- and rockslides swept through coastal communities in Sibuco and other nearby fishing villages.
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Disaster officials said many residents failed to heed evacuation warnings along coastal areas and riverbanks.
"Many people were swept to the sea as flood waters quickly rose due to the high tide," Manuel Luis Ochotorena, a disaster agency official, said. "They never heeded the warnings. They thought it was a weak storm but it dumped more rains."
Tembin is the second tropical storm to lash the Philippines within a week. Several days ago Tropical Storm Kai-Tak barreled through the central Philippines, killing at least 54, with 24 still missing.
Emergency workers, soldiers, police and volunteers were being organized to look for survivors, clear debris and restore power and communications. But the lack of electricity and communications has hampered rescue efforts, said Ryan Cabus, a local official.
The weather bureau reports that the storm had strengthened over the Sulu Sea and was packing sustained winds of up 80 kph (50 mph) while moving west at 20 kph.
It was heading out towards sea on Saturday and is expected to be clear of the Philippines by Monday, according to the service.
Food packs and other forms of aid were being distributed throughout storm-hit communities, according to presidential spokesman Harry Roque Jr.
"It is unfortunate that another tropical cyclone, Vinta, made its presence felt so near Christmas," Roque said, using the local name for the storm.
One of the worst typhoons to ever hit the Philippines was Haiyan, in 2013. It was one of the most powerful storms to make landfall, and it killed nearly 8,000 people and left 200,000 families homeless.
bik/tj (AFP, Reuters, AP, dpa)