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17 December 2011

Philippines storm toll rises to 50: officials

MANILA, Philippines — The death toll from tropical storm Washi rose to 50 as it raked across the southern Philippines, causing widespread flooding, officials said.

Forty-five people drowned on Mindanao island, including 40 in Iligan city, while five were killed in a landslide in the east of the island, National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council director Benito Ramos told AFP on Saturday.

Iligan mayor Lawrence Cruz described rampaging floodwaters from swollen rivers that swamped at least 10 villages on the city's outskirts.

"It happened so fast, at a time when people were fast asleep," Cruz told GMA television.
The station showed dramatic pictures of a family escaping out of the window of their home as floodwaters rose, and rescue workers in orange vests shepherding survivors to safety above chest-deep floodwaters.

Ramos said 25 millimetres (one inch) of rain had fallen over the past 24 hours, swelling rivers and swiftly inundating low-lying areas.

"Storms rarely hit this area and people probably became complacent even though they knew it was heading their way," he said.

Weather forecasters said the eye of the storm passed close to Dipolog city near Iligan early Saturday and Washi was now heading out to the Sulu Sea.

The large western island of Palawan to the northwest lies directly in the path of the storm, with winds of 65 kilometres (40 miles) an hour.

Mindanao is a largely agricultural area that is considered the country's breadbasket.
The Philippines is struck by about 20 major storms annually, with most hitting Luzon, the largest and most populous island in the Southeast Asian archipelago.

Two typhoons, Nesat and Nalgae, hit the country within days of each other from late September, leaving more than 100 people dead, while tropical storm Banyan killed another eight people in October.

- AFP