POUNDING rain from a tropical storm swelled rivers and sent walls of water crushing into two southern Philippine cities in the thick of night, killing at least 436 people, many caught in their beds, officials say.
Philippine Red Cross Secretary General Gwen Pang told The Associated Press on Saturday that the latest toll was based on a body count in funeral parlours.
She said that 215 died in Cagayan de Oro and 144 in nearby Iligan cities, and the rest in several other southern and central provinces.
Most of the dead were asleep Friday night when raging floodwaters tore through their homes from swollen rivers and cascaded from mountain slopes following 12 hours of pounding rain in the southern Mindanao region.
Many of the bodies in parlours were unclaimed, indicating that entire families had perished, Pang said.
The number of missing was unclear Saturday night. Before the latest Red Cross figures, military spokesman Lt Col Randolph Cabangbang said about 250 people were still unaccounted for in Iligan.
Thousands of soldiers backed up by hundreds of local police, reservists, coast guard officers and civilian volunteers were mobilised for rescue and to clear a massive deluge that left the two coastal cities strewn with debris, rubbish, overturned vehicles and toppled trees.
Some of the dead were swept out to sea from Cagayan de Oro and Iligan, which are intersected by rivers and flanked by mountains, in a region that is unaccustomed to the typhoons that are common elsewhere in the archipelago nation.
Chief of the government’s Civil Defence Office Benito Ramos attributed the high casualties in Mindanao “partly to the complacency of people because they are not in the usual path of storms” despite four days of warnings by officials of an approaching storm.