More than 500 Dead in Storm in Philippines

Posted December 18th, 2011 at 4:30 am (UTC-5)
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Rescue efforts continue in the southern Philippines, which has been pounded by a powerful but slow-moving storm that may have swept entire villages out to sea.

Typhoon Washi struck the region of Mindanao, blanketing the area with heavy rain and high winds. The storm also triggered a series of deadly flash floods and landslides.

The Philippine Red Cross Sunday put the death toll so far at 521, basing the figure on a body count at funeral parlors. Secretary General Gwen Pang told the Associated Press Saturday many of the bodies remained unclaimed after nearly 24 hours, suggesting that entire families had died.

Philippine officials say hundreds of people are still missing, even as rescue workers pull more bodies from the mud.

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

Philippine government officials say unlike other parts of the Philippines, the Mindanao region rarely gets such severe storms. Many of the victims were asleep when they were swept away.

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

Officials say tens of thousands of people are homeless.

Some of the hardest hit areas were the cities of Iligan and Cagayan de Oro. Some residents were forced to their rooftops to escape from the waters and await rescue.

Authorities say a popular radio commentator was among those swept away by the floodwaters.

Forecasters say Washi is expected to blow out of the country late Sunday.

The Philippines is hit by an average of about 20 typhoons each year.