Philippine rescuers struggled against mud, fatigue and the stench of death on Sunday to help the survivors of devastating flash floods that killed more than 650 people.

As bodies washed out to sea began rising to the surface, mortuaries were overwhelmed and emergency teams struggled to find survivors in cloying mud around the major port cities of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan on Mindanao island.

Entire villages were swept away by floodwaters as residents, normally spared from typhoons that devastate other parts of the Philippines every year, slept in the early hours of Saturday despite storm warnings.

The Red Cross said that 652 people had been confirmed dead and another 808 were currently listed as missing.

“I'm out here retrieving bodies that are starting to rise to the surface,” Benito Ramos, head of the national disaster council, told AFP by mobile phone from a rescue boat off Cagayan de Oro.

The United States offered assistance to its former colony as the Philippine government and the Red Cross appealed for help to feed, clothe and house more than 35,000 people huddled in evacuation centres.

A 20,000-strong military force normally involved in fighting Muslim insurgents in Mindanao was leading rescue and relief operations.

A 30-member military and police rescue team landed Sunday in Bayug, a delta area near Iligan formerly home to a fishing community of up to 1,000 people, an AFP photographer saw.

The delta had been swept clean of most structures, leaving those left alive having to rebuild huts with scrap wood.

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