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Typhoon floodwaters kill more than 450 in Philippines

December 17, 2011 |  4:12 pm

Philippines storm damage
REPORTING FROM SEOUL -- More than 450 people were killed Saturday in the southern Philippines after a tropical storm devastated two coastal cities with flash flooding that drowned victims in their sleep and drove others to rooftops.

Authorities said that Tropical Storm Washi struck the northern coast of Mindanao Island with heavy rains in a region not accustomed to typhoons, causing rivers to burst their banks, sweeping many residents out to sea. Officials say more than 300 people are missing.

The cities of Iligan and Cagayan de Oro were transformed into mud-filled waterways choked with vehicles and downed trees, Philippine army officials said.

PHOTOS: Flash floods in Philippines

Officials said many victims were asleep when floodwaters poured down off mountainsides following the late-season tropical storm. Rescuers in boats rushed offshore to save people swept out to sea, and more than 10,000 national troops rushed to the scene.

Ayi Hernandez, a former congressman, told the Associated Press that he and his family were resting in their home in Cagayan de Oro late Friday when they heard a loud "swooshing sound" and water quickly rose ankle-deep inside, driving him to a neighbor's two-story house.

"It was a good thing, because in less than an hour the water rose to about 11 feet," filling his home  to the ceiling, he said.

 As many as 215 died in Cagayan de Oro -- a city of 500,000 residents, and 144 in nearby Iligan, with 300,000 inhabitants, according to the Philippine Red Cross. Others died in several other southern and central provinces.

Many of the bodies were unclaimed after nearly 24 hours, suggesting that entire families had died in a storm that dumped more than a month's worth of average rains in just 12 hours, officials said.

Philippines television showed a man floating in an inner tube in muddy water littered with plastic buckets, pieces of wood and other debris. Elsewhere, nearly a dozen people stood on the sloping roof of one home, waiting for rescuers as water flooded the lower floors.

Benito Ramos, chief of the government's Civil Defense Office, told reporters that the high casualty rate in Mindanao was due “partly to the complacency of people because they are not in the usual path of storms,” despite four days of warnings that one was approaching.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in a statement that the Obama administration offered "deepest condolences" for the devastation in the southern Philippines and was prepared to assist authorities.

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Deaths in Vietnam Raise Typhoon's Toll

Typhoon buries Taiwan village in mud

-- John M. Glionna

Photo: Wrecked vehicles were swept into an open storm drain in  Cagayan de Oro by a storm that killed hundreds of people.  Credit: Dennis M. Sabangan / EPA

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