A tropical storm in the Philippines unleashed flash floods that swept away people and houses and set off landslides, leaving more than 200 dead on Saturday.

Most of the deaths from Tropical Storm Tembin were in the hard-hit provinces of Lanao del Norte and Lanao del Sur and on the Zamboanga Peninsula.

Police said 144 people remained missing while more than 40,000 had fled to evacuation camps as Tembin roared out into the South China Sea early Sunday.

A total of 70,000 have been displaced or affected by the storm according to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), which warned that continued heavy rain could hamper the search for survivors.

It is the latest disaster to hit the Philippines, which is battered by about 20 typhoons and storms each year, making the archipelago that lies on the Pacific typhoon belt one of the world’s most disaster-prone countries.

Rescuers evacuate residents from their homes during heavy flooding in Cagayan de Oro city in the PhilippineCredit:
Froilan Gallardo/Reuters

A search and rescue operation was underway for more than 30 people swept away by flash floods in the fishing village of Anungan, Mayor Bong Edding of Zamboanga del Norte province’s Sibuco town said.

"The floodwaters from the mountain came down so fast and swept away people and houses," Mr Edding said. "It’s really sad because Christmas is just a few days away, but these things happen beyond our control."

He blamed years of logging in the mountains for the tragedy, adding that he and other officials would move to halt the logging operations.

Thousands of villagers moved to emergency shelters and thousands more were stranded in airports and seaports after the coast guard prohibited ferries from venturing out in the rough seas and several flights were canceled.

An inter-island ferry sank off northeastern Quezon province on Thursday after being lashed by fierce winds and big waves, leaving at least five people dead.

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 PhilippinesCredit:
Froilan Gallardo/Reuters

But disaster officials said many residents had ignored warnings to leave coastal areas and riverbanks.

"Many people were swept to the sea as flood waters quickly rose due to the high tide," Manuel Luis Ochotorena, a disaster agency official, said. "They never heeded the warnings. They thought it was a weak storm but it dumped more rains."

Hundreds of miles to the east, army and emergency workers were checking reports an entire village was buried by mudslide in Tubod town in Lanao del Norte.

Ryan Cabus, a local official, said power and communication lines to the area had been cut, complicating rescue efforts.

Gerry Parami, a police officer, said that there had been at least 19 deaths in the town.

Rescuers evacuate residents during heavy flooding in Cagayan de Oro city in the PhilippinesCredit:
Froilan Gallardo/Reuters

"The river rose and most of the homes were swept away. The village is no longer there," he said. Volunteers were digging through mud to try to recover bodies.

One fisherman was killed by a crocodile while securing his boat as a tropical storm bore down on the western island of Palawan.

Abdulsalam Binang Amerhasan, 53, went to the river in driving rain to tie up his boat, with waters rising as Tembin closed in. The remains of his body was found several hours later.

A spokesman for the Centre for Disaster Preparedness told the Telegraph they were rushing to get aid to the worst-hit areas.

“It’s vital we reach those who have been completely cut off, that is the priority,” he said.   

Earlier in the week, a tropical storm left more than 50 people dead and 31 others missing, mostly due to landslides, and damaged more than 10,000 houses in the central Philippines before weakening and blowing into the South China Sea.

Among the areas battered by Tembin was Marawi, a lakeside city in Lanao del Sur that is still recovering from a five-month siege by pro-Islamic State group extremists that left more than 1,000 people dead.

The region is still recovering from Typhoon Haiyan, which killed more than 7,000 people and affected millions in 2013.

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