At least 31 dead as storm wreaks havoc in southern Philippines

Landslides and flooding killed at least 31 people as heavy rain from an approaching storm battered the southern Philippines, a disaster official said on Friday.

The storm triggered flash floods carrying uprooted trees, rocks and mud overnight in nine mostly rural towns around Cotabato, a city of 300,000 people on the island of Mindanao.

Many residents were surprised by the rapidly rising waters before dawn, Naguib Sinarimbo, spokesman and head of civil defense for the regional government, told Agence France-Presse (AFP).

Rescuers recovered 16 bodies from Datu Odin Sinsuat, 10 from Datu Blah Sinsuat and five from Upi town, with at least seven others missing, he told reporters.

A rescue team was also sent to a remote village after relatives reported a community at the foot of a mountain had been buried in mud, he said.

“We fear there are many casualties there, although we hope not,” Sinarimbo said, adding that rescuers have yet to update him on the progress of the search.

Elsewhere, teams in dinghies rescued residents from rooftops, Sinarimbo added.

In recent years, flash floods of mud and debris from heavily deforested mountainsides have been among the deadliest hazards typhoons pose to communities in the Philippines.

Mindanao is rarely affected by the twenty typhoons that hit the Philippines each year. But those that tend to be deadlier than those that hit Luzon, the main island.

A long mountain range separates most of Luzon from the Pacific, where most storms are spawned, helping to absorb the blow, the state weather service said.

Local filmmaker Remar Pablo told AFP he was filming a beauty pageant in the town of Upi when floodwaters suddenly came down after midnight and forced viewers to flee.

A row of cars was half-submerged on the street outside, his clips showed.

“We were stuck inside,” said Pablo, who eventually waded through the water to get home.

Rescuers carried a baby in a plastic tub as they navigated through chest-deep water, a photo released by provincial police showed.

It was a shock

Floodwaters receded in several areas, but the city of Cotabato remained almost entirely waterlogged.

Sinarimbo said there could be more flooding over the next few hours due to heavy rains on the mountains surrounding the Cotabato River basin.

“Our focus right now is rescue as well as setting up community kitchens for survivors,” he said.

The army deployed its trucks to pick up stranded residents in Cotabato and nearby towns, provincial civil defense chief Nasrullah Imam said.

“It was a shock to see municipalities that had never been flooded before being affected this time around,” Imam said, adding that some families were swept away when the waters hit their homes.

The heavy rains began on Thursday evening in the impoverished region, which is under Muslim autonomy after decades of separatist armed rebellion.

The Manila state weather bureau said it was partly caused by Tropical Storm Nalgae, which it expects to strengthen upon landfall.

Nalgae was heading northwest with maximum winds of 85 kilometers (53 miles) per hour and could hit Samar Island late Friday or the Bicol Peninsula at the southern tip of Luzon overnight.

Nearly 5,000 people were evacuated from communities prone to flooding and landslides in these areas, the civil defense office said.

The coastguard has also suspended ferry services across much of the archipelago where tens of thousands of people board boats every day.

Scientists have warned that the storms, which kill people and livestock and destroy farms, homes, roads and bridges, are getting more powerful as the world heats up from climate change.

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