Typhoon Fengshen kills 80 in Philippines

MANILA, Philippines – A rescue ship battling huge waves and strong winds on Sunday reached a passenger ferry that capsized in Typhoon Fengshen, but found none of the more than 700 people who were on board. The storm has submerged entire communities in the Philippines and left at least 80 people dead.

The ferry, one end jutting out of the water, went down in the rough waters Saturday and had been out of radio contact for more than 24 hours.

“They haven’t seen anyone. They’re scouring the area. They’re studying the direction of the waves to determine where survivors may have drifted,” coast guard spokesman Lt. Senior Grade Arman Balilo said. Three survivors had made it to land earlier.

Many of the passengers were feared dead after villagers found four bodies, children’s slippers and life jackets that washed ashore near where the MV Princess of Stars had stalled. Port captain Nestor Ponteres said the ferry’s owner, Sulpicio Lines, had lost radio contact with the ship.

The dead, including a man and a woman who had bound themselves together, were believed to have been on the vessel, which initially ran aground a few miles off central Sibuyan island Saturday, then capsized, said Mayor Nanette Tansingco of San Fernando on Sibuyan island.

At least three survivors from the ferry were found in Sibuyan’s Mabini village and police were ordered to go there. But all the roads to the village, where many houses were washed away by huge waves, were blocked by toppled trees, Tansingco told DZBB radio.

She appealed for food, medicine and formalin — an embalming fluid — apparently expecting many deaths in her town. The ferry’s bow could be seen from her town, she said.

The typhoon lashed the central Philippines for about four hours Saturday, setting off landslides and floods, knocking out power and blowing off roofs.

Packing sustained winds of 74 miles per hour and gusts of up to 93 mph, the typhoon shifted course Sunday to the northwest and battered Manila at dawn, dumping heavy rain on the capital.

TV footage showed rescuers holding on to a long rope to pluck three people from raging floodwaters. The three were trapped on top of a partially engulfed van in a village in Iloilo province, where the governor said 59 people had drowned. In nearby village, residents pulled out a body from a muddy field then lays it beside another they found earlier. Gov. Neil Tupaz said another 40 people were missing in the province.

“Almost all the towns are covered by water. It’s like an ocean,” Tupaz said, adding thousands have been displaced in the central province that is home to 1.7 million people.

Rescue vessels aborted an initial attempt Saturday to get to the 23,824-ton ferry, but efforts resumed in stormy weather Sunday, coast guard chief Vice Admiral Wilfredo Tamayo said, although churning seas kept smaller vessels away. Four coast guard ships and three from the navy were being deployed, and the air force was asked to send aircraft as soon as the weather clears.

The ferry — with 626 passengers and 121 crew members on board — was “dead in the water” after its engine failed around noon Saturday, Tamayo said.

About two dozen relatives trooped to the Manila office of Sulpicio Lines, some quietly weeping as they waited for news about the fate of their loved ones. “I’m very worried, I need to know what happened to my family,” said Felino Farionin, his voice cracking. His wife, son and four in-laws were on the ferry.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo directed the defense and local government departments to stand by for relief and rescue missions before she left for the United States late Saturday.

Arroyo later talked to officials in a teleconference aired live on nationwide radio, scolding coast guard officials for allowing the ferry to leave Manila late Friday despite the bad weather.

Ferries are the main form of inter-island transportation in the sprawling Philippines archipelago, site of the world’s worst peacetime maritime disaster when the ferry MV Dona Paz sank after colliding with the fuel tanker MT Vector five days before Christmas in 1987, killing more than 4,341 people.

In southern Maguindanao province, at least 14 people drowned in flash floods Saturday, including 10 swept away from riverside homes, said provincial administrator Norie Unas. Five others were missing.

A 50-year-old man and his 10-year-old grandson were killed when a landslide buried their hillside shanty in Cotabato city Saturday, Mayor Muslimin Sema said.

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~ by richart123 on June 22, 2008.

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