MANILA - Some 200 people have been killed in southern Philippines after a tropical storm triggered heavy flooding and landslides that ravaged towns and displaced tens of thousands a few days before Christmas.
Typhoon Vinta (international name: Tembin) lashed Mindanao, home to 20 million people, on Friday, hitting the island as a tropical storm with gusts of 125 kph and torrential rains, wiping out at least one mountain village and prompting a massive rescue operation over the weekend.
It intensified into a typhoon on its way out of the Philippines Sunday.
Police said 144 people remained missing while more than 40,000 had fled to evacuation centers as Vinta roared out into the South China Sea.
A total of 70,000 have been displaced or affected by the storm according to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), which warned that continued heavy rains could hamper the search for survivors.
"People left everything behind when they fled for their lives," the IFRC's Philippines operations and programs manager Patrick Elliott said in a statement.
The Philippines is pummeled by major storms every year, many of them deadly, but Mindanao tends to be less affected.
Footage showed vast tracks of land on the island now under brown water, often waist deep as locals tried to flee to safer ground.
Local police said 135 people were killed and 72 were missing in the northern section of Mindanao, while 47 were dead and 72 were missing in the impoverished Zamboanga peninsula on its western side.
Another 18 people perished in the province of Lanao del Sur in the center of the island.
One of the places hit hardest by the storm was the mountain village of Dalama, which was virtually erased from the map.
Footage filmed by ABS-CBN News showed houses destroyed or engulfed by floodwaters there and rescuers retrieving the body of a dead girl buried in a landslide.
Police, soldiers and volunteers used shovels and their bare hands to dig through mud and debris in their search for survivors.
"The flood was already close and the people were not able to get out of their homes," Armando Sangcopan, an elderly male survivor, said.
Rescuers said a total of 103 houses were carried off by rampaging floodwaters in Dalama.
The storm approached the western island of Palawan, a popular tourist draw, late Saturday and swept into the South China Sea before dawn Sunday, the state weather service said.
"So far zero casualties, but we have accounts of some people missing," Palawan civil defense chief Zaldy Ablana told DZMM radio in an interview on Sunday.
But in a Palawan fishing village, a 53-year-old man was killed by a crocodile Saturday while securing his boat in a river before the onslaught of the typhoon.
Vinta struck less than a week after Tropical Storm Urduja (international name: Kai-Tak) left scores dead and more than 20 missing in central Philippines, straining the disaster-prone nation's already stretched resources.