Over 800 missing in Philippine ferry disaster
CEBU, Philippines (Reuters) - More than 800 people were missing on Monday after a Philippine ferry capsized in a typhoon that has killed scores and left a trail of destruction across the archipelago.
Sulpicio Lines, the owner of the MV Princess of Stars, revised up the number of people missing to 845 after discovering an extra 100 passengers on the ship's manifest. Only four people are so far known to have survived the ferry disaster and they said many did not make it off the ship in time.
Crowded life-rafts sank in cold, storm-tossed seas.
"Many of us jumped, the waves were so huge, and the rains were heavy," a survivor identified only as Jesse told local radio.
"There was just one announcement over the megaphone, about 30 minutes before the ship tilted to its side." "Immediately after I jumped, the ship tilted, the older people were left on the ship."
Four people have been confirmed dead. Children's slippers and life jackets have washed ashore.
There were 724 passengers and 121 crew on board, including at least 20 children and 33 infants.
In the central city of Cebu, where Princess of Stars was meant to dock, dozens of relatives maintained a vigil at a small passenger terminal, waiting for news.
"The last time I heard from my son was on Friday evening when the ship left Manila. He texted to say he was coming home," said Celecia Tudtud, a mother of four.
"I really hope he's ok," she said, wiping away tears.
A spokesman for President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who flew to the United States on Saturday night, said she would not cut short her eight-day state visit, which includes meeting U.S. President George W. Bush in the White House on Tuesday.
A coastguard vessel was trawling the waters around the 23,824 gross tonne ferry, which is upside down with only its bow above the waves, trying to confirm reports some passengers had made it to a small island.
"We are hoping more people will have reached the shoreline," Vice Admiral Wilfredo Tamayo, the head of the coastguard, told Reuters.
Princess of Stars ran aground on Saturday but the coastguard was unable to reach it because of huge swells and bad weather caused by Typhoon Fengshen, which crashed into the central Philippines on Friday.
At least two other coastguard vessels were en route to help in rescue efforts and Tamayo said he hoped divers would be able to scour the submerged ship later on Monday.
He said there was no sign fuel was leaking from the ferry but said an oil-spill response team would arrive with one of the two coastguard ships before dawn on Monday.
Princess of Stars sank 3 km (2 miles) from Sibuyan island in the centre of the archipelago.
Typhoon Fengshen, with maximum gusts of 195 kph (121 mph), has killed at least 155 people in central and southern Philippines, with the western Visayas region, famed for its sandy beaches and sugar plantations, the worst affected.
In Iloilo province, 101 people were reported dead after flood waters over two meters high engulfed communities, forcing tens of thousands to scramble onto the roofs of their homes.
"Iloilo is like an ocean. This is the worst disaster we have had in our history," Governor Neil Tupaz told local radio.
In neighboring Capiz, more than 2,000 houses were destroyed in the provincial capital and officials were struggling to make contact with communities further afield.
"We got hit real bad this time," said Richard Gordon, the chairman of the Philippines' Red Cross.
After battering Manila on Sunday, Fengshen spun out into the South China Sea on Monday. The storm was en route to Taiwan, where it could make landfall in the next few days, according to storm tracker website www.tropicalstormrisk.com.
More than 30,000 people were being housed in evacuation centers in the centre and south of the archipelago.
An archipelago of more than 7,000 islands, the Philippines is hit by an average of 20 typhoons a year.
(Writing by Carmel Crimmins; Editing by Ralph Boulton)
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