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Philippine storm toll exceeds 650; 900 missing

Soldiers search for victims Sunday in Iligan in the southern Philippines. Tropical Storm Washi moved on after devastating the southern Philippines with flash floods that killed hundreds.

Associated Press

Soldiers search for victims Sunday in Iligan in the southern Philippines. Tropical Storm Washi moved on after devastating the southern Philippines with flash floods that killed hundreds.

ILIGAN, Philippines — As a storm that killed more than 650 in the southern Philippines raged outside the store where she works, Amor Limbago worriedly called home to check on her parents, but their cellphones just kept ringing and later went dead.

Limbago, 21, rushed home as soon as the flash floods receded and confirmed her worst fear: Her parents and seven other relatives were gone, swept away from their hut by the river.

"I returned and saw that our house was completely gone," a weeping Limbago told the Associated Press from Cagayan de Oro.

Tropical Storm Washi blew away Sunday after devastating a wide swath of the mountainous region on Mindanao island, which is unaccustomed to major storms. It killed at least 652 people and left more than 900 others missing, the Philippine Red Cross said.

Most of the victims were asleep Friday night when flash floods cascaded down mountain slopes with logs and uprooted trees, swelling rivers. The late-season tropical storm turned the worst-hit coastal cities of Cagayan de Oro and nearby Iligan into muddy wastelands filled with overturned cars and broken trees.

Most of the dead were children and women, Red Cross Secretary General Gwendolyn Pang said.

Iligan Mayor Lawrence Cruz said today that he was suggesting a mass burial because of health concerns. Apart from the decomposing bodies, dead livestock lie scattered in the mud.

Leaders around the world, including Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, offered help, and Pope Benedict XVI on Sunday said he would pray "for the victims, largely children, for the homeless, and for the numerous ones gone missing."

Philippine storm toll exceeds 650; 900 missing 12/18/11 [Last modified: Sunday, December 18, 2011 11:23pm]

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