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Typhoon toll rises in Philippines; hundreds of fishermen missing

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By The Associated Press
Sunday, Dec. 9, 2012, 9:40 p.m.
 

NEW BATAAN, Philippines — The number of people missing after a typhoon devastated the Philippines jumped to nearly 900 after families and fishing companies reported losing contact with more than 300 fishermen at sea, officials said.

The fishermen from southern General Santos city and nearby Sarangani province left a few days before Typhoon Bopha hit the main southern island of Mindanao on Tuesday, Civil Defense chief Benito Ramos said. The death toll has surpassed 600, mostly from flash floods that wiped away precarious communities in the southern region unaccustomed to typhoons.

Ramos said the fishermen were headed to the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea and to the Pacific Ocean. Coast guard, navy and fishing vessels are searching for them, and some may have sought shelter on the many small islands in the area.

“Maybe they are still alive,” Ramos said on Sunday.

Bopha was dissipating finally in the South China Sea after briefly veering back toward the country's northwest on Saturday, prompting worries of more devastation. Rescuers were searching for bodies or signs of life under tons of fallen trees and boulders in the worst-hit town of New Bataan, where rocks, mud and other rubble destroyed landmarks, making it doubly difficult to search places where houses once stood.

Nearly 400,000 people, mostly from Compostela Valley and nearby Davao Oriental province, have lost their homes and are crowded inside evacuation centers or staying with relatives.

President Benigno Aquino III has declared a national calamity, which allows for price controls on basic commodities in typhoon-affected areas and the quick release of emergency funds.

Officials said 316 people were killed in Compostela Valley, including 165 in New Bataan and 301 in Davao Oriental.

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