Rescue teams in the southern Philippines were searching in mud and water on Christmas Day for people missing after floods and landslides caused by rainfall from Tropical Storm Tembin, as officials raised the toll to 230 dead.
At least 171 people were still missing Monday in the storm’s wake and nearly 60,000 Filipinos displaced by Tembin (also known as Vinta) were spending their holiday at 200 evacuation shelters across Mindanao island, according to the national disaster management agency.
In Lala, a town in Lanao del Norte province, tired volunteers who lacked proper search-and-rescue equipment waded in muddied banks of a river that had overflowed. They were looking for any cadavers that might be mixed in with debris in the water.
“We have reports from villagers that they saw people swept away by strong currents of a flash flood, some 20 kilometers [12.4 miles] away from the town of Salvador,” volunteer Mario Cambiling told BenarNews. “We are looking for them now.”
He said volunteers had recovered more than 40 bodies since Saturday, but their supply of plastic body bags provided by the Philippine Health Department in Manila had run out.
“We only wrap them now with blankets or what is available,” Cambiling said.
Mindanao, the largest island in the south, bore the brunt of the storm. Three provinces as well as many southern cities were still reeling from flooding and other destruction caused by the storm.
Tembin made landfall Thursday night and was moving toward Vietnam on Monday after leaving the southern Philippines.
“It’s very sad it happened this Christmas while we are busy with our families,” said Romina Marasigan, spokesperson for the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council.
The agency had deployed 4,000 people, divided into 500 teams, to help find more bodies or missing people, she said.
Marasigan said the Philippine government was rushing to verify the death figures, but noted that based on the national tally, about 171 people were still missing.
The reports, however, were tallied from civil defense offices of various provinces. It is not unusual for Manila to have lower figures because officials in the Philippine capital receive the reports late.
“Let me stress that the figures are still subject for verification and confirmation. We have a lot of reports obtained overnight,” Marasigan said.
Emmanuel A. Leyco, an officer-in-charge at the Department of Social Welfare and Development, said there were 13,927 families, or 59,851 people, currently staying at more than 200 evacuation centers in Mindanao.
“We would like to assure the Filipino people that the DSWD (social work department) is closely monitoring the situation and that our Field Offices in the affected regions continue to operate with no holiday break so we can provide all the assistance that is within our mandate to give to affected families,” he said.
Leyco said those affected by the storm included people who had been uprooted earlier this year by a five-month battle between Islamic State-linked militants and government forces in the southern city of Marawi.
“We have advised them to move out temporarily and stay in school buildings for safety. We are coordinating with the disaster and relief units of local government units on these efforts,” he said.
Meanwhile, Lotta Sylwander, the representative for UNICEF in the Philippines, said the U.N. agency was closely monitoring the situation of children and families affected by Tropical Storm Tembin.
She said UNICEF was ready to deliver water, sanitation and hygiene supplies upon request from the Philippine government.
“Our heart goes out to the children and families affected and made vulnerable by storm Vinta at this time of the year when a majority of Filipinos are getting ready to celebrate Christmas,” Sylwander said.
Tembin struck the southern Philippines a few days after another tropical storm, Kai-Tak, battered most of the central Philippines and parts of the Philippine main Luzon Island on Dec. 16, killing dozens.
Jeoffrey Maitem in Cotabato, Philippines contributed to this report.