Thousands flee storm, persistent floods in Philippines

Thousands of people fled rising floods and an approaching storm in a fresh round of evacuations in the Philippines, officials said Friday as the death toll from a week of foul weather rose to 37. Nearly 13,000 people left their villages along the flooded banks of the Agusan river on the southern island of Mindanao in the past 24 hours, the civil defence office in the region said in an updated report. "The rains come to this region around this time, but this year has been terrible," John Uayan, an operations official for the government agency, told AFP. The state weather office said a weather system off the Philippines' east coast has turned into a tropical storm and would hit Mindanao's coast on Saturday, increasing the danger to residents of the already flooded Agusan basin. The storm looks set to spare the nearby region where Super Typhoon Haiyan left nearly 8,000 people dead or missing and made more than four million people homeless in November -- a rare piece of good news for the disaster-weary Asian nation. But many in Mindanao were bracing for a fresh wave of appalling weather. "We expect intense rain over the (Agusan) region starting tonight," forecaster Alczar Aurelio told a news conference. "The public is being warned about the possibility of landslides and flash floods," Reynaldo Balido, spokesman for the government's National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council. The coastguard expects stormy local waters and has barred ferries from setting sail, Balido told the news conference. More than 218,000 people are now temporarily housed in schools and other government buildings across the eastern third of Mindanao after a week of bad weather, civil defence officials said Friday. Some of them have been there since shortly after heavy rains began pounding the region on January 10, they added. Floods and landslides unleashed by heavy rains killed 18 people in the Agusan basin, including a woman who drowned on Thursday and three gold prospectors whose bodies were pulled from a landslide. Nineteen other people were killed earlier in the week along Mindanao's east coast, including areas still recovering from Typhoon Bopha that left 1,900 people dead or missing in December 2012, they added. Two ferries and a cargo vessel ran aground off the central islands of Cebu and Bohol on Wednesday and Thursday, but no casualties were reported and nearly 400 passengers and crew are being transferred to other vessels, the coast guard said.