Death toll rises to 200 in Philippine floods and mudslides

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

Fast-moving storm caught many residents by surprise

A man clings onto the rope of a rescue boat as residents are evacuated from their homes due to heavy flooding in Cagayan de Oro city in the Philippines on Friday. By Sunday, officials said roughly 200 people had died because of flooding. (Froilan Gallardo/Reuters)

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

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

"It happened very fast, the flood waters quickly rose filling our house," farmer Felipe Ybarsabal, 65, told Reuters by telephone, saying he and his family had to run to higher ground.

"We weren't able to save anything from the house. There was no help from anyone because it was so fast. Everything was two to three metres under water in less than an hour."

Police and disaster officials said they expected the toll of about 200 dead to rise with more fatalities likely to be discovered in remote farm communities and coastal areas, as rescuers reached them and restored communication and power links.

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 storm was moving west on Sunday, over some outlying Philippine islands and the South China Sea towards southern Vietnam, at a speed of about 20 km/h.

Residents walk in a village devastated by flashfloods in Salvador, Lanao del Norte in southern Philippines on Sunday. (Richel V. Umel/Reuters)

It intensified into a typhoon with winds of 120 km/h as it moved out of the Philippine area of responsibility, the national meteorological agency said.

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

Pope Francis offered his prayers for the people of Mindanao while delivering his weekly blessing to a crowd on St Peter's Square at the Vatican.

"Merciful Lord, take in the souls of the dead and comfort those who are suffering as a result of this calamity," he said.

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 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 centre, city officials said.