MAHINOG, Philippines, Nov. 8 (Reuters) — A devastating storm ripping through the Philippines' central and southern regions may have killed as many as 350 people, most of them in an area known as Paradise Island, officials said today.
The tropical storm, designated Lingling, hit the southern island of Camiguin on Wednesdsay, sending a river of mud and boulders tumbling from the hills, flattening hundreds of houses. Some 234 people were missing and feared dead on the island, the regional civil defense director, Casiano Matela, said by telephone.
He said the victims were buried under mud three meters — about 10 feet — deep. "I think they are all dead." The governor of Camiguin, Pedro Romualdo, wept in front of reporters, saying he felt most sorry for the many children who had died.
Rescue workers on Camiguin were continuing their search in any case.
The storm also hit the central Visayas region, triggering more floods and landslides. At least 115 bodies have been recovered in four provinces.
Cities and towns in the region were plunged into darkness, and a tunnel in Asia's largest copper mine on Cebu Island collapsed, killing 11 workers. Four other people died there, 10 drowned on sugar-growing Negros Island and another death was reported in Bohol.
The storm, with winds gusting up to 56 miles per hour, was much weaker than Hurricane Michelle, which lashed Central America, Cuba and the Bahamas earlier in the week, killing 16 people in Central America and 5 in Cuba.
But Lingling has been more deadly because of the flash floods caused by the rainwater runoff down the volcanic cliffs of Camiguin.
Thousands of villagers fled their homes early Wednesday when the storm struck.
Heavy winds felled coconut trees in Hubangon village in the town of Mahinog, throwing them across roads and onto houses. Walls of mud carrying boulders the size of cars smashed into the village.
Of some 200 houses there, only about 10 were still standing after the storm passed. In one part of the village, all that remained were bits of furniture.
"We expect the number of dead to rise as rescuers keep on digging for more bodies," Mahinog's mayor, Benedicto Castanarez, said.
The storm continued to pummel the central islands of Panay and Negros today and was expected to hit Palawan island in the west on Friday before heading across the South China Sea toward Vietnam, the weather bureau said.
A Panamanian-registered ship carrying logs from Indonesia to Hong Kong sank in choppy seas north of the Philippines, and its 19 Filipino crew members were missing, the Philippine coast guard said.
In Mahinog today, a farmer, Felicito Abao, wept outside a gymnasium where most of the dead were laid out. One body was that of his youngest child, a baby. "I am still looking for my wife and my two other daughters," Mr. Abao said. He said he lost them when their house crumbled after torrents of mud slammed into it.
"The rains were so strong and the winds were fierce," he said. "Suddenly, our house collapsed and we were swimming in the water. "I could hear my children crying," he said. "I was clutching them, then they were gone. So was my wife."
Philippines Storm Death Toll at 108
MAHINOG, Philippines -- Tropical storm Lingling battered the Philippines for
a second day Thursday, leaving at least 108 people dead, sinking a cargo ship
and virtually shutting down several provinces.
The death toll included 78 in Mahinog town on the resort island of Camiguin, which suffered its worst disaster in a half-century. With 300 people missing, officials said the overall toll was likely to rise.
Nineteen of the missing were Filipino crewmen on a cargo ship that sank Thursday in stormy seas off the northwestern Philippines. There was no word on survivors, as the poor weather hampered rescue efforts.
The storm was blamed for the collapse of a tunnel in a copper mine in Cebu province. Rescue workers were trying to reach 14 miners trapped under tons of rock and earth.
Workers in Mahinog, which reported 203 people missing, scurried to embalm dozens of corpses to avoid an outbreak of disease in the steamy tropical heat. Urgent requests went out for chain saws to cut through trees and other debris, and for anyone with a shovel to help dig through tons of mud.
But the devastation was so complete -- only five houses were still standing in Hubangon, one of the villages that make up Mahinog -- that it was hard to tell where most homes had stood.
"I saw the people, the children, the innocent who died," Camiguin Gov. Pedro Romualdo said, sobbing as he spoke to ABS-CBN television. "It's the first time I've seen something like this."
Fast-moving flood waters bearing boulders cascaded from hills around Hibok-Hibok, one of seven volcanoes on the island, into mountain villages in Mahinog and riverside communities in Catarman as most people were still sleeping Wednesday.
Casiano Matela, regional director of the provincial Office of Civil Defense, said residents reported hearing a thunderous water spout -- a tornado over water -- before the flash floods hit.
Police officer Romeo Jaguilma and his family survived in Hubangon by climbing on the roof of their concrete house, which withstood the flood waters, and clutching their children in the darkness as he sang a hymn. They could hear cries for help from their neighbors over the rushing water all around them.
"The noise was very deafening," said Jaguilma's wife Lorna, 36. "It sounded like a hundred trucks and a hundred boats all arriving at the same time."
Her husband said he also could hear boulders hitting the side of the house. Three coconut trees and two small fruit trees provided some protection.
Dozens of corpses, mostly elderly and children, were lined up on a basketball court in Mahinog as people nervously inspected posted lists of the dead and missing.
"We have to bury them this afternoon; otherwise they will cause a stench and pose health risks," Mahinog Mayor Benedicto Castanares said as about 20 workers made coffins in the back of the gymnasium.
Camiguin normally avoids the worst from the typhoon season that batters the Southeast Asian nation every year because most storms track to the north, but a four-hour pre-dawn deluge took residents by surprise.
Damaged roads and a destroyed bridge prevented rescuers from reaching some communities.
"The highway appeared like a river bed, and you could see uprooted trees," Romualdo said. "All roads are heavily damaged. I still cannot believe what happened."
He said the storm was the biggest calamity to hit Camiguin since 1951, when Hibok-Hibok volcano erupted, killing 500 people.
About 5,000 of Camiguin's 74,000 people were evacuated from the island 440 miles southeast of Manila. Romualdo said the island's well-known tourist resorts escaped serious damage from Lingling.
Flooding hit other parts of the Philippines as the storm moved northwest. Two girls were killed in Toledo City in central Cebu province, and eight in Negros Occidental province, where about 40,000 people were evacuated and officials declared a state of calamity.
The storm knocked out electricity and flooded many parts of central Leyte, Samar and Bacolod provinces, where many schools were closed.
The storm was forecast to move northwest out of the Philippines by Friday.
Copyright © 2001, The Associated Press
Philippine Floods Kill 66 People
The Associated Press, Nov. 7, 2001
CAGAYAN DE ORO, Philippines -- Torrential rains spawned flash floods in the
southern Philippines and sent volcanic boulders crashing down into villages,
killing at least 66 people and leaving dozens more missing Wednesday.
A steady four-hour downpour from tropical storm Lingling triggered pre-dawn floods on Camiguin, an island province famed for its beach resorts just north of Mindanao Island, said Casiano Matela, regional director of the Office of Civil Defense.
"I could not believe this would happen. Entire houses were swept away," Camiguin Gov. Pedro Romualdo said by cellular telephone.
He said at least 51 bodies were brought to a gymnasium in Mahinog town, which bore the brunt of the storm on the eastern side of the island.
Matela reported three people also were killed in the provincial capital of Mambajao, seven in Sagay and three in Catarman. The civil defense office said at least 57 people were missing. Two girls were killed in Toledo City in central Cebu province, which also was hit by floods and landslides.
Romualdo said he expected the death toll to rise and that his province will need more coffins.
Matela said residents reported hearing a thunderous water spout _ a tornado over water -- before the flash floods. Flood waters bearing boulders cascaded from the Hibok-Hibok volcano into mountain villages in Mahinog and in riverside communities in Catarman, he said.
Romualdo said rescue teams could not reach some communities because of damaged roads and a destroyed bridge. Matela said helicopters that tried to reach the island were forced back by the weather.
The entire country is prone to tropical storms, Camiguin usually is spared the worst because the normal storm path is further north.
Lingling, with gusts up to 56 mph, was expected to cross central Panay Island, about 250 miles southeast of Manila, late Wednesday as it blows northwest.
The storm knocked out electricity and flooded many parts of central Leyte and Samar provinces, where elementary and high schools were closed. There were no immediate reports of casualties in those two provinces.
Copyright © 2001, The Associated Press