Video: Death toll rises from Philippines typhoon

msnbc.com news services
updated 12/19/2011 8:58:30 PM ET 2011-12-20T01:58:30

Nearly 1,000 were killed when flash floods and landslides caused by Typhoon Washi swept through riverside and coastal villages in the southern Philippines late last week, the national disaster agency said on Tuesday.

The agency said 957 were killed and 49 were missing, with most of the casualties coming from the cities of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan. The previous death toll was 650.

Authorities in the two cities, worst-hit by water, mud and logs swept down mountains, are struggling to prevent disease from spreading in crowded evacuation centers and have started digging mass graves to bury decomposing bodies.

President Benigno Aquino will visit the two cities later on Tuesday. The government said more than 338,000 people were affected by the disaster.

With funeral parlors overwhelmed, authorities in a flood-stricken southern Philippine city on Monday organized the first mass burial of some of nearly 700 people who were swept to their deaths in one of worst calamities to strike the region in decades.

Estimates of the staggering death toll from Friday night's disaster, spawned by a tropical storm, spiked, have varied widely, though the latest spike underscored the difficulty in accounting for people who could be buried in the mud and debris littering much of the area or could be alive but lost in crowded evacuation centers or elsewhere.

"We lost count of how many are missing," Benito Ramos, head of the government's Office of Civil Defense, admitted earlier on Monday.

Video: Floods kill hundreds in Philippines

Disaster agencies delivered body bags, food, water, and medicine to crowded evacuation centers throughout the region.

How to bury the dead
Officials in Iligan said they would bury about 80 bodies at a public cemetery on Monday — but in individual plots and tombs. Workers were rushing to construct tombs.

"Definitely, we are not burying them in mass graves. That is not allowed any more," Levi Villarin, city health officer, told Reuters.

However, in Cagayan de Oro, further east along Mindanao's north coast, officials moved hundreds of unclaimed bodies to a sanitary landfill for a mass burial after residents complained of the stench.

"They (local officials) have to bury these decomposing bodies because they could no longer be recognized and they're avoiding a potential outbreak of disease," Ramos said.

Vicente Emano, mayor of Cagayan de Oro, said officials were planning to put some bodies into refrigerated trucks until law enforcement agencies identified the dead through fingerprints and DNA tests.

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The cities are running out of room at evacuation centers and of coffins. The Health department was sending 600 body bags and medicines to the affected areas, Social Work Secretary Dinky Soliman said.

The Maoist-led Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) rebels, who have battled government forces for 40 years, said they had declared a six-day unilateral Christmas truce to help those affected by the floods. The government last week announced a 19-day truce.

Search continues
The government said nearly 143,000 people were affected by the flash floods and landslides, of which 45,000 people were staying in evacuation centers. The rest stayed with relatives.

Save the Children, a London-based non-governmental organization, estimated more than half of those affected were children.

PhotoBlog: Philippines counts the cost of Typhoon Washi

A Reuters photographer saw three white wooden coffins of children, who were aged 7 to 10, lined up at a church in Iligan converted into an evacuation center.

Ramos, the head of the national disaster agency, said six helicopters and two dozen boats were dispatched to search for survivors and drowning victims.

"From the helicopter, we saw four major river systems, all houses along the riverbanks were totally destroyed," he said.

Some bodies were found on the shore of Camiguin island, 47 miles from Cagayan de Oro.

PhotoBlog: Storm, floods hits south Philippines

Rescuers pulled the bodies of at least 13 people from a two-story concrete house in Iligan flattened by huge logs that fell from the mountains. They feared more bodies were under the debris as many residents had sought safety there, thinking the house would withstand the flash floods.

Disaster officials said the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs had started a damage and needs assessment survey to help the government and aid agencies respond to the disaster.

Foreign governments have sent condolences and promised to donate food and other relief supplies.

The agriculture department said about 8.1 million pesos ($184,000) in mostly rice and corn crops were lost.

Mindanao island, the southernmost in the Philippines, is a mineral-rich region not normally in the path of the average 20 typhoons that hit the Southeast Asian country each year.

More from msnbc.com and NBC News:

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

Photos: Typhoon strikes the Philippines

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  1. A photograph of a missing child is posted at the wall of evacuation center on Wednesday, Dec. 21 in Cagayan de Oro. The death toll following the typhoon that struck Friday has risen to more than 1000, with an undetermined number of people missing. (Jeoffrey Maitem / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Residents look among the wreckage of their devastated village, Wednesday, in Cagayan de Oro. (Jeoffrey Maitem / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Filipino flood victims wait for relief goods inside a basketball gym turned into an evacuation center in Cagayan De Oro City, Wednesday. According to the Office of Civil Defence (OCD), more than 340,000 people were displaced by the floods. At least 44,000 of the victims are staying in cramped evacuation centers that often lack facilities, while some have camped out in the streets and their villages. (Francis R. Malasig / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Flood-affected areas in Cagayan de Oro City, southern Philippines are seen from the air on Tuesday, Dec. 20. Nearly 1,000 people died in massive flash floods when typhoon Washi hit the country in one of the worst disasters to strike the region in decades. The southern city of Cagayan de Oro suffered the most deaths at 579, while 279 were killed in the nearby city of Iligan. (Gil Nartea / Malacanang Photo Bureau via EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Philippine Navy personnel arrange coffins that will be shipped with drinking water, clothes and other relief goods to flood-stricken Cagayan De Oro and Iligan on board a Philippine Navy ship in Manila on Tuesday. (Aaron Favila / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Relatives mourn during a mass burial for typhoon victims in a cemetery in Iligan city, Tuesday. Philippine President Benigno Aquino declared a state of national calamity after flash floods and land slides swept through killing nearly 1,000 people and leaving tens of thousands homeless. (Charlie Saceda / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. A man gathers wood amidst logs and debris washed ashore following the typhonn e in Iligan city, Tuesday. (Erik De Castro / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Filipinos retrieve a vehicle buried the mud in Cagayan De Oro City, on Tuesday. Benito Ramos, administrator of the Office of Civil Defence, said rescue workers had intensified search operations for an undetermined number of missing in the badly hit cities of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan. 'The death toll will likely be more than 1,000 because many are still missing,' he said. 'We don‘t have an accurate tally of the missing because we've lost count with the rising numbers.' (Francis R. Malasig / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Soldiers carry a coffin containing the body of a victim during a mass burial in Iligan city on Tuesday. (Erik De Castro / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Relatives light candles during a burial in a mass graveyard at a public cemetery in Iligan City on the southern island of Mindanao. Tuesday. Two trucks arrived at the public cemetery in nearby Iligan at dusk, with soldiers unloading 38 coffins of victims who have been identified and claimed by relatives. (Ted Aljibe / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. A boy takes a break from shovelling mud as he cleans his house swamped with mud from flash floods in Iligan city, Wednesday. (Erik De Castro / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. This aerial photo shows the damage caused by devastating flooding over Iligan city in the southern Philippines on Monday, Dec. 19. Tropical storm Washi blew through on Friday night causing flash floods and killed hundreds. With funeral parlors overwhelmed, authorities organized the first mass burial of unidentified victims. (Richel Umel / Pool via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. A resident walks away from her house that was left hanging on a concrete fence after being swept away at the height of the devastating floods in Iligan City on Monday. (Ted Aljibe / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Soldiers in Iligan City carry the body of a 10-year-old boy they retrieved from a village devastated by rampaging floodwaters. Authorities rushed drinking water and body bags to two southern Philippine cities devastated by flooding from the typhoon. (Dennis M Sabangan / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Filipinos view bodies of flood victims on Monday in Jassaan, Misamis Oriental province. Officials were rushing to fingerprint the dead who couldn't be identified before burial. (Francis R. Malasig / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Policemen search through the debris for missing typhoon victims in Iligan City, on Monday. (Erik De Castro / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Residents line up for relief supplies at an evacuation center in Iligan City on Monday. (Bullit Marquez / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. A motorist speeds past a car hanging on a wall in Iligan City, on Monday. (Ted Aljibe / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. A resident rests from cleaning his family's mud-swamped house in Iligan City, Monday. (Erik De Castro / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Soldiers and health workers carry the body of a flash flood victim in preparation for a mass burial at a public cemetery in Iligan City on Monday. (Bullit Marquez / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Filipino children run alongside a bus asking for food in Iligan City on Monday. (Dennis M Sabangan / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Toppled trees are seen beside the remains of a house along a flood-hit area in Cagayan de Oro city, on Sunday, Dec. 18. (Froilan Gallardo / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Typhoon Washi victims wash clothes next to an overturned vehicle in a village in Cagayan de Oro in southern Philippines on Sunday. The cities of Cagayan de Oro and nearby Iligan on Mindanao island were worst hit when Typhoon Washi slammed ashore late on Friday and early Saturday, sending torrents of water and mud through villages and stripping mountainsides bare. (Erik De Castro / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. A Filipino family seek shelter inside a basketball court turned into an evacuation center in Makasandig village, Cagayan De Oro City, on Sunday. (Dennis M. Sabangan / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Locals affected by the storm gather in an evauation center on Sunday, in Cagayan de Oro. The two hardest hit areas are running out of room in evacuation areas, where the governement said nearly 143,000 people were affected. (Jeoffrey Maitem / Getty Images Contributor) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. The devastated town swept away by rampaging flood waters of Kala-kala village, Cagayan De Oro City, on Sunday. (Dennis M. Sabangan / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Residents clean their muddied house and belongings in Cagayan de Oro on Sunday. (Ted Aljibe / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Police approach a distraught resident following a flash flood that inundated Cagayan de Oro city, on Saturday, Dec. 17. Mayor Lawrence Cruz of nearby Iligan said the coast guard and other rescuers were scouring the waters off his coastal city for survivors or bodies that may have been swept to the sea by a swollen river. (Froilan Gallardo / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. A father cries as he carries the body of his child, who was among hundreds killed in the typhoon in Cagayan de Oro on Saturday. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. Damaged vehicles washed away by flash floods lie in a ditch in Balulang village in Cagayan de Oro on Saturday. (Erik De Castro / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. Trapped residents, perched on rooftops, are rescued following a flash flood in Cagayan de Oro city on Saturday. (Froilan Gallardo / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. Residents are rescued by volunteers following a flash flood that inundated Cagayan de Oro city on Saturday. (Erwin Mascarinas / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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