MANILA – The death toll from mammoth floods unleashed in the Philippines by tropical storm Washi has climbed to nearly 500, the Red Cross said Sunday, warning the total could climb significantly.
The Red Cross said 497 people were dead and more than 160 missing after the storm hit the south late Friday but more fatalities were likely to be confirmed in the coming days.
“The affected area is so wide and huge and I believe they have not really gone to all areas to do a search. Also… many of the houses were washed out so that means the houses and the bodies were displaced,” said Gwen Pang, secretary general of the Philippine National Red Cross.
“We are only counting the actual dead bodies that were sent to funeral parlours,” she told AFP, warning many more bodies could still be found.
Heavy rain from Washi on the southern island of Mindanao led to flash floods, swollen rivers and landslides with the cities of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan particularly hard hit.
“This thing happened so fast, it was very overwhelming. It happened in the evening when people were sleeping,” said Pang.
“People were saying they were really unprepared. They didn’t know it would hit them to this extent,” she said.
Fortunately, the waters receded quickly, in contrast to floods in the northern Philippines, which can last for weeks or even months, said Pang.
Almost 35,000 people remained huddled in evacuation centres after the storm, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council said.
Rescue and relief efforts were hampered by power outages in many areas including Cagayan de Oro and Iligan cities as well as by damaged and destroyed bridges, the council added.
An average of 20 storms and typhoons, many of them deadly, hit the Philippines annually.
However, most of the storms strike the northern regions. The southern areas are usually spared so people in the south were unprepared for Washi’s fury, government relief officials said.
Washi, which crossed Mindanao and some central islands on Saturday, hit the western island of Palawan before dawn Sunday and has continued moving west into the South China Sea, the government weather station said.
The storm, packing maximum winds of 80 kilometers (50 miles) per hour, is forecast to move westward, away from the Philippines, at 24 kilometers per hour.