Hundreds of people have died in a tropical storm that ravaged the Mindanao region in the southern Philippines Friday, and even more are missing, CNN reported Monday.
Tropical Storm Washi, which is being called Sendong locally, hit the Philippines over the weekend. The death toll ranges from 533 to over 900, according to various sources. Reuters reported that 533 died and 309 remain missing, citing the national disaster agency. The local Red Cross put the toll at 652 killed and more than 800 missing. Benito Ramos, the head National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, said the toll stood at 927, according to CNN.
Entire villages have been destroyed by mud and flooding, Reuters reported. Cagayan de Oro and Iligan, the cities worst hit by the disaster, are running out of evacuation centers and coffins for the dead. The cities converted churches into temporary evacuation centers as relief workers struggled to deliver body bags, food and water. The country is considering mass graves for the victims.
“My suggestion is, so that illnesses won’t spread, let’s have mass graves,” Benito Ramos said in a radio interview, Reuters reported. “This will be the discretion of local governments and the DOH (Department of Health).”
Ten hours of rain caused flash flooding overnight Friday, which fueled the devastation. As much as 20 centimeters (8 inches) of rain fell within 24 hours in some parts of the region. December generally brings about 60 millimeters of rain (a little over 2 inches) to the region, CNN Meteorologist Pedram Javaheri reported.
President Barack Obama issued a statement Monday expressing “deep condolences for the tremendous loss of life and devastation,” and said the United States “stands ready to assist the Philippine people and government should humanitarian assistance and recovery efforts be needed,” CNN reported.
Mindanao is the southernmost island in the Philippines, a mineral-rich region that also produces rice and corn. It is normally not in the path of the approximately 20 tropical storms that hit the country each year, according to Reuters.
The casualties from Washi have already exceeded the death tolls from a tropical storm that killed over 450 people in 2009, dumping heavy rains on the main Luzon island and inundating almost all of Manila, the capital.