MANILA, Philippines – (4th UPDATE) The death toll from the mammoth floods unleashed in the Philippines by tropical storm "Sendong" (international name: Washi) has climbed to more than 650, the Philippine National Red Cross (PNRC) said Sunday.
Data from its official Twitter account shows the death toll as of 6:00 p.m. is already at 652.
This is higher than government figures. As of 12:00 p.m., the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) reported 332 dead.
PNRC Secretary General Gwendolyn Pang told ANC at least 8,000 families have been affected, with Cagayan de Oro and Iligan City accounting for most of the numbers.
"The affected area is so wide and huge and I believe they have not really gone to all areas to do a search. Also... many of the houses were washed out so that means the houses and the bodies were displaced," Pang said in a separate Agence France Presse (AFP) article.
"We are only counting the actual dead bodies that were sent to funeral parlors," she told AFP, warning many more bodies could still be found.
"This thing happened so fast, it was very overwhelming. It happened in the evening when people were sleeping," said Pang.
"People were saying they were really unprepared. They didn't know it would hit them to this extent," she said.
Fortunately, the waters receded quickly, in contrast to floods in the northern Philippines, which can last for weeks or even months, said Pang.
Almost 35,000 people remained huddled in evacuation centers after the storm, the NDRRMC said.
Rescue and relief efforts were hampered by power outages in many areas as well as by damaged and destroyed bridges, the council added.
Pang fears health risks in the aftermath of the storm, especially affecting those in the evacuation centers. The residents may be prone to common colds, cough and diarrhea, she added.
She said water filtration systems will be set up in Cagayan de Oro and Iligan, through the help of the Department of Social Welfare and Development.
An average of 20 storms and typhoons, many of them deadly, hit the Philippines annually.
However, most of the storms strike the northern regions. The southern areas are usually spared so people in the south were unprepared for Sendong's fury, government relief officials said.
Sendong, which crossed Mindanao and some central islands on Saturday, hit the western island of Palawan before dawn Sunday and has continued moving west into the South China Sea, the government weather station said. – with reports from Agence France Presse