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Rescuers search for Philippine storm victims as death toll rises to 200

by Reuters /  / Updated 
Image: Philippines storm
Villagers cross raging flood waters in Lanao del Norte, Zamboanga Pennisula, southern Philippines on Dec. 22. A tropical storm has unleashed flash floods and set off landslides in the southern Philippines leaving dozens of people dead.Aclimah Disumala / AP

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ZAMBOANGA, Philippines — Rescuers in the Philippines searched on Sunday for survivors of a storm that triggered floods and landslides, left scores missing and thousands homeless — most of whom apparently ignored warnings to move to safety — and killed about 200 people.

Misery in the largely Christian Philippines was compounded by the death of at least 37 people in a shopping mall fire, officials said on Christmas Eve.

The Philippines is battered by about 20 typhoons a year and warnings are routinely issued, but the level of destruction wreaked by tropical storm Tembin on the southern island of Mindanao from late on Friday came as a surprise.

"The figure could increase as we continue to received reports from the field as the weather improves," said a police spokesman on Mindanao, Superintendent Lemuel Gonda, referring to the death toll.

"We are slowly restoring power and communications in affected areas."

Disaster officials said 159 people were listed as missing while about 70,000 had been forced from their homes.

Soldiers and police joined emergency workers and volunteers to search for survivors and victims, clear debris and restore power and communications.

Disaster officials said many villagers had ignored warnings to leave coastal areas and move away from riverbanks, and got swept away when flash floods and landslides struck.

The United Nations was ready to help the Philippines, a spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a statement.

Image: Philippines storm
People help to rescue flood victims in Lanao del Norte, Philippines, Dec. 22. 2017.SOCIAL MEDIA / Reuters

Last week, 46 people were killed in the central Philippines when a typhoon hit. In 2013, super typhoon Haiyan killed nearly 8,000 people and left 200,000 families homeless.

The south of the Philippines has been plagued by insurgencies by communist rebels and Muslim separatists for years, as well as often bearing the brunt of tropical storms roaring in from the Pacific.

The region was hit by another disaster on the weekend when fire swept through a shopping mall in the city of Davao, killing at least 37 people, most of them workers at a call center, city government officials said.

The fire broke out on Saturday at a furniture shop on the mall's third level and quickly engulfed an outsourcing business on the top floor, said a spokeswoman for the city government, Ma. Teresita Gaspan.

President Duterte and his daughter, Sara Duterte, who is mayor of the city, visited the scene late on Saturday to meet anxious relatives of the missing and survivors.

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