Search and rescue efforts bolstered in Philippine disaster

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — As search and rescue efforts increased with the arrival of equipment, the death toll has risen to at least 56, with 28 others missing, after a summer tropical depression that unleashed days of pounding rain caused landslides and floods in the central and southern Philippines, officials said Wednesday.

Nearly 200 villagers were injured mostly in the landslides in the hard-hit city of Baybay in central Leyte province over the weekend and early Monday, officials said. Army, police and other rescuers were struggling with mud and unstable heaps of earth and debris to find the missing villagers.

More rescuers and heavy equipment, including backhoes, arrived in the landslide-hit villages in Baybay. Its mayor, Jose Carlos Cari, said the weather cleared Wednesday, allowing the search and rescue work to go full force.

“We’re looking for so many more missing people,” Cari said and added that authorities would do a recount to determine how many villagers were really missing and believed buried in the landslides.

Forty-seven of the dead were recovered from the landslides that hit six Baybay villages, military and local officials said. Nine other people drowned elsewhere in floodwaters in four central and southern provinces, they said.

“We are saddened by this dreadful incident that caused an unfortunate loss of lives and destruction of properties,” said army brigade commander Col. Noel Vestuir, who was helping oversee the search and rescue.

Coast guard, police and firefighters rescued some villagers Monday in flooded central communities, including some who were trapped on their roofs. In central Cebu city, schools and work were suspended Monday and Mayor Michael Rama declared a state of calamity to allow the rapid release of emergency funds.

At least 20 storms and typhoons batter the Philippines each year, mostly during the rainy season that begins around June. Some storms have hit even during the scorching summer months in recent years.

The disaster-prone Southeast Asian nation also lies on the Pacific “Ring of Fire,” where many of the world’s volcanic eruptions and earthquakes occur.

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