Death Toll from Philippines Storm Exceeds 650

Posted December 18th, 2011 at 11:00 pm (UTC-5)
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The death toll from tropical storm Washi in the Philippines reached 652 people Sunday, as rescuers continued to search for more than 900 others still missing.

Washi struck the southern island of Mindanao Friday night, blanketing the area with heavy rain and high winds. Flash floods and landslides washed away entire houses with families inside in dozens of coastal villages in Cagayan de Oro and Iligan.

The Philippine Red Cross said most of the victims were women and children. Tens of thousands of people are homeless.

Local authorities suggested a mass burial for the victims because of health concerns. Apart from decomposing bodies, dead livestock lie scattered in the mud.

Much of the rescue effort has been focused on land, but authorities said rescuers in small boats have been able to pluck several survivors out of the waters along the coast.

Thousands of soldiers and police have joined in the rescue efforts, hampered by blocked roads and a lack of electricity.

Although the Philippines is hit by about 20 typhoons each year, the Mindanao region rarely gets severe storms.

Leaders around the world, including the United States, offered help Sunday. Pope Benedict said he would pray “for the victims, in large part children, the homeless and the many missing.”