200 missing in mammoth floods across vast areas

Tropical storm Washi whipped the southern Philippines, unleashing mammoth floods across vast areas that left 440 people dead and nearly 200 missing, relief workers said Saturday.

About 20,000 soldiers had been mobilised in a huge rescue and relief operation across the stricken north coast of the island of Mindanao, where the major ports of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan were worst hit.

Cagayan de Oro city reported 215 dead, and nearby Iligan city lost 144 residents, Philippine National Red Cross secretary-general Gwen Pang told AFP.

Iligan mayor Lawrence Cruz described rampaging floodwaters from swollen rivers that swamped up to a quarter of the land area of the city of 100,000. “It's the worst flood in the history of our city,” Mr. Cruz told GMA television. “It happened so fast, at a time when people were fast asleep.”

The station showed dramatic pictures of a family escaping out of the window of their home in the town as the floods rose, and rescue workers in orange vests shepherding survivors to safety above chest-deep waters.

“Most of them were asleep as floodwaters rushed down at 2:30am (1830 GMT Friday),” Benito Ramos, head of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council told reporters in Manila, referring to the victims.

“They were warned [about the approaching storm], but they did not go into pre-emptive evacuation.”

He said Mindanao was rarely visited by storms, though about 20 major storms strike the Philippines annually, with most hitting Luzon, the largest and most populous island in the Southeast Asian archipelago.

“We expect huge damage, especially on agriculture,” said Mr. Ramos.

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