MANILA — The reported deaths from landslides and floods spawned by tropical depression Agaton climbed to 76 on Maundy Thursday, as dozens remained missing, according to the national disaster agency.
The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) said 72 of the reported deaths were from Eastern Visayas, where a series of landslides devastated communities
Twenty-nine people were still missing while 8 others were injured, the NDRRMC said.
Some 51,000 were still in evacuation centers, while around 162,000 were staying with relatives or friends, after Agaton damaged at least 354 houses, the agency said in its 8 a.m. report.
It pegged the initial damage to agriculture at around P134 million.
Authorities earlier said 26 people died in the coastal village of Pilar, which is part of Abuyog, Leyte, after a torrent of mud and earth on Tuesday pushed houses into the sea and buried most of the settlement.
"I have to be honest, we are no longer expecting survivors," Abuyog Mayor Lemuel Traya told AFP, adding that emergency personnel were focused on the difficult task of retrieving bodies.
A number of villagers were also in hospital.
A rumbling sound like "a helicopter" alerted Ara Mae Canuto, 22, to the landslide hurtling towards her family's home in Pilar.
She said she tried to outrun it, but was swept into the water and nearly drowned.
"I swallowed dirt, and my ears and nose are full of mud," Canuto told AFP by telephone from her hospital bed. Her father died, and her mother has not been found.
The disaster-prone region is regularly ravaged by storms -- including a direct hit from super typhoon Yolanda in 2013 -- with scientists warning they are becoming more powerful as the world gets warmer because of human-driven climate change.
Baybay City, Leyte is also reeling after waves of sodden soil smashed into farming settlements over the weekend, killing at least 48 people and injuring more than 100, local authorities said. Twenty-seven are still missing, they added.
Aerial photos showed a wide stretch of mud that had swept down a hill of coconut trees and engulfed Bunga village, where only a few rooftops poked through the now-transformed landscape.
'MANY OF US DIED'
The NDRRMC said 3 deaths were also reported in Davao Region and one in Western Visayas.
The death toll from Agaton is expected to rise as rescue operations switch to recovering bodies.
Photos posted by the Bureau of Fire Protection on Facebook showed buildings crushed or turned over by the force of the landslide and debris in the water.
While Pilar survivor Canuto counts herself lucky to be alive, she said "many of us died and a lot are missing, too".
Pope Francis, having been informed of the storm's destruction, expressed solidarity with the victims, the Vatican said in a statement.
"He also offers the assurance of prayers for the dead, injured and displaced as well as those engaged in recovery efforts," the statement said.
"His Holiness willingly invokes upon all the Filipino people God's blessings."
Agaton came 4 months after super typhoon Odette devastated swathes of the country, killing more than 400 and leaving hundreds of thousands homeless.
The Philippines -- ranked among the most vulnerable nations to the impacts of climate change -- is hit by an average of 20 storms every year.
— With a report from Imelda Magbutay and Mikhail Flores, Agence France-Presse