More than 600 Dead in Storm in Philippines

Posted December 18th, 2011 at 7:55 am (UTC-5)
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Rescuers searched for more than 800 people missing Sunday after flash floods and landslides killed more than 600 people in the southern Philippines.

Typhoon Washi struck the region of Mindanao late Friday, blanketing the area with heavy rain and high winds. Floods washed away entire houses with families inside in dozens of coastal villages in Cagayan de Oro and Iligan.

The Philippine Red Cross Sunday put the death toll so far at 652, with more than 800 missing. 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.

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.

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.

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.