900 missing after storm hits south Philippines

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THE NUMBER of people missing after a typhoon devastated parts of the southern Philippines has jumped to nearly 900 after families and fishing companies reported losing contact with more than 300 fishermen at sea.

The fishermen, from southern General Santos city and nearby Sarangani province, left a few days before Typhoon Bopha hit the main southern island of Mindanao last Tuesday, triggering flash floods that killed more than 600, said civil defence chief Benito Ramos yesterday.

Mr Ramos said the fishermen were headed to the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea and to the Pacific Ocean. He said there has been no contact from them for a week.

“We have declared them missing,” he said. “Maybe they are still alive.”

Ramos said they may have sought shelter on the small islands in the Spratlys and the Celebes Sea, and lost battery power and have not been able to call.

He said the coast guard, navy and fishing vessels had launched a search.

After slamming into the southern Philippines, the typhoon moved out to sea but then veered back toward the country’s north-west on Saturday, prompting worries of more devastation. As of late last night, however, it began to dissipate.

Rescuers continued searching for bodies or signs of life under tons of fallen trees and boulders in the worst-hit town of New Bataan, where rocks, mud and other rubble destroyed landmarks, making it doubly difficult to search places where houses once stood.

Nearly 400,000 people have lost their homes and are crowded inside evacuation centres or staying with relatives.

President Benigno Aquino III declared a state of national calamity on Friday, which allows for price controls on basic commodities in typhoon-affected areas and the quick release of emergency funds.