December 18, 2011 in Nation/World

Death toll more than 500 in Philippines flash floods

Jim Gomez Associated Press

ILIGAN, Philippines – Tropical Storm Washi blew away today after devastating a wide swath of the southern Philippines with flash floods that killed at least 521 people as they slept and turned two coastal cities into a muddy wasteland filled with overturned cars and uprooted trees.

With nearly 500 people missing, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and top military officials were to fly to the worst-hit city of Cagayan de Oro to help oversee search-and-rescue efforts and deal with thousands of displaced villagers. Among the items urgently needed are coffins and body bags, said Benito Ramos, who heads the government’s disaster-response agency.

“It’s overwhelming. We didn’t expect these many dead,” Ramos said.

Army officers reported unidentified bodies piled up in morgues in Cagayan de Oro, where electricity was restored in some areas, although the city of more than 500,000 people remained without tap water.

Philippine Red Cross Secretary General Gwendolyn Pang told the AP that at least 521 people had died in the floods, mostly children and women, and that 458 others were reported missing.

The death toll will most likely rise because many villages remain isolated and unreached by overwhelmed disaster-response personnel. The worst-hit cities were Cagayan de Oro, where at least 239 people died, and nearby Iligan, where Red Cross aid workers reported 195 dead, Pang said.

“Our fear is there may have been whole families that perished so there’s nobody to report what happened,” Pang said. “Many areas remain isolated and strewn with debris and unreached by rescue teams.”

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