More than 1,300 dead or missing in Philippine typhoon

June 28th, 2008 - 12:12 pm ICT by IANS  

Manila, June 28 (DPA) More than 1,300 people are dead or missing in the Philippines due to accidents caused by typhoon Fengshen, including the sinking of a passenger ferry, the Office of Civil Defence (OCD) said Saturday. A total of 713 people were killed during Fengshen’s onslaught last week, while 674 are missing, the OCD said.

Most of the fatalities were results of drowning in floods and sea accidents.

They included at least 173 people who were aboard the MV Princess of the Stars when it capsized off Sibuyan Island, 300 km south of Manila, June 21.

Only 56 survivors have been rescued from the sinking of the ferry, while more than 630 people are still missing and feared dead in one of the worst maritime tragedies in the Philippines.

The OCD said 41 people were also reported missing in other accidents throughout the country.

Search and retrieval operations for the hundreds still missing in the sinking of the Princess of the Stars remained suspended Saturday as authorities focused on removing a large shipment of highly toxic pesticides from the submerged ferry.

The operations for retrieval of maritime cargo were halted Friday due to concerns that more than 100 Filipino and US divers were being exposed to endosulfan, a restricted pesticide that can cause death or attack the central nervous system.

Water samples taken from the area have so far tested negative for endosulfan, Philippine Vice President Noli De Castro said.

De Castro said divers have been cleared to go into the water to retrieve the hazardous shipment from the Princess of the Stars.

“We need to remove the endosulfan first because the powder could melt in the water and the destruction might go beyond (the area),” he said.

Transportation undersecretary Elena Bautista said the retrieval of bodies trapped in the sunken vessel would resume after the toxic chemicals are removed.

“Once the endosulfan is removed, that’s the only time the search operations for bodies can be resume,” she said.

Maritime authorities have began an investigation into the accident, while all remaining vessels of Sulpicio Lines, which owns the sunken ferry, have been grounded.

The Princess of the Stars was the fourth Sulpicio Lines ship to sink since 1987 when its passenger ferry Dona Paz collided with an oil tanker just before Christmas, killing 4,341 people in the world’s worst peacetime shipping disaster.

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