5 Dec 2012

Deadly typhoon hits southern Philippines

9:54 pm on 5 December 2012

The death toll from a typhoon that ravaged the Philippines has jumped to 238 with hundreds missing, as rescuers battle to reach areas cut off by floods and mudslides, officials say.

Typhoon Bopha slammed into the southern island of Mindanao on Tuesday, toppling trees and blowing away homes with 210km/h gusts before easing overnight as it headed towards the South China Sea.

Some 142 people died and 241 others were missing in the mountainous Mindanao town of New Bataan, Lieutenant-Colonel Lyndon Paniza told AFP.

Eighty-one other people were killed in the nearby province of Davao Oriental and 15 in other areas, Lieutenant Paniza and the civil defence office said.

Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman and other officials described scenes of utter devastation with houses and other structures in some towns and villages ripped apart by the most powerful storm to hit the country this year.

"There are very few structures left standing in the town of Cateel," Ms Soliman said, referring to one badly hit coastal town.

The situation was just as dire in New Bataan town, which the military said saw flash floods and mudslides.

The dead included a soldier taking part in rescue operations, Interior Secretary Mar Roxas said. Six other army men from the same unit were missing and three were injured.

The military was scrambling helicopters and heavy equipment on Wednesday to the mountain town, where rainwater had gushed down from nearby slopes, creating a deadly swirl of water, logs and rocks that crushed everything in its path.

Parts of Mindanao remained without power and telephone services, with food and clean water in limited supply.

Cateel and two other towns on Mindanao's east coast remained cut off because of a collapsed bridge and fallen trees and debris blocking roads, said Corazon Malanyaon, governor of Davao Oriental province where Bopha made landfall.

More than 155,000 people had been moved to shelters ahead of the storm, one of about 20 that hit the Philippines every year, often causing death and destruction. Last year Typhoon Washi killed 1,500 people on Mindanao, Reuters reports.

Dozens of domestic flights and ferry services in the central and southern Philippines were suspended on Tuesday. Schools and some businesses were closed.

Bopha was moving west-northwest and was expected to move out into the South China Sea by Thursday.