MORE than 800 people were missing last night after a Philippine ferry capsized in a typhoon which has already killed more than 150 and left a trail of destruction across the archipelago.
Sulpicio Lines, the owner of the MV Princess of Stars, put the number of people missing to 845 after discovering an extra 100 passengers on the ship's manifest. Only 28 people were last night reported to have survived the disaster and they said many did not make it off the ship in time.
Crowded liferafts sank in cold, storm-tossed seas.
"Many of us jumped, the waves were so huge, and the rains were heavy," a survivor identified only as Jesse told local radio.
"There was just one announcement over the megaphone, about 30 minutes before the ship tilted to its side.
"Immediately after I jumped, the ship tilted, the older people were left on the ship."
Reynato Lanoria, a janitor on the ship, estimated about 100 people could have survived, "but the others were trapped inside".
"I think they are all dead by now," he told DZMM Radio after making it to shore by jumping into the water and reaching a liferaft.
Mr Lanoria said he was on the top deck when a crew member ordered people to put on life vests at around 11:30am on Saturday. About 30 minutes later, the ship began tilting so fast that elderly people and children fell on the rain-slickened deck.
Jesus Gica, a passenger who managed to escape, said: "There were many of us who jumped overboard, but we were separated because of the big waves.
"The others were also able to board the liferafts, but it was useless because the strong winds flipped them over."
Six bodies, including a man and woman who had bound themselves together, washed ashore on a high tide which also carried children's slippers and life jackets.
There were 724 passengers and 121 crew on board, including at least 20 children and 33 infants.
In the central city of Cebu, where Princess of Stars was meant to dock, dozens of relatives maintained a vigil at a small passenger terminal, waiting for news.
Celecia Tudtud, a mother of four, said: "The last time I heard from my son was on Friday when the ship left Manila. He texted to say he was coming home. I really hope he's ok."
A coastguard vessel was last night trawling the waters around the 23,824-tonne ferry, which is upside down with only its bow above the waves.
Reports that a large number of survivors may have reached a nearby island and that a liferaft was spotted off another were being checked, a spokesman for the coastguard said.
The Princess of Stars ran aground on Saturday but the coastguard was unable to reach it due to bad weather caused by Typhoon Fengshen, which hit the central Philippines on Friday.
At least two other coastguard vessels were en route to help in rescue efforts and a coastguard spokesman said it was hoped that divers would be able to scour the submerged ship later today.
He added that there was no sign that fuel was leaking from the ferry, but said an oil-spill response team would arrive on the scene with one of the two coastguard ships before dawn today.
Princess of Stars capsized two miles from Sibuyan island in the centre of the archipelago.
Death toll from 'worst disaster in Philippines history' hits 155
TYPHOON Fengshen, with gusts of up to 120mph, has killed at least 155 people in central and southern Philippines, with the western Visayas region, famed for its sandy beaches and sugar plantations, the worst affected.
In Iloilo province, 101 people were reported dead after flood waters more than two metres high engulfed communities, forcing tens of thousands to scramble onto the roofs of their homes. "Iloilo is like an ocean. This is the worst disaster in our history," Neil Tupaz, the region's governor, said.
In neighbouring Capiz, more than 2,000 houses were destroyed in the provincial capital and officials were struggling to make contact with communities further afield.
After battering Manila on yesterday, Fengshen spun out into the South China Sea early today. The storm is heading to Taiwan, where it could make landfall in the next few days, according to the website www.tropicalstormrisk.com.
More than 30,000 people were being housed in evacuation centres in the centre and south of the archipelago.