MANILA, Philippines – Flash floods caused by unusually heavy rainfall have drowned four more people, raising the 3-week-old death toll in a third of the Philippines to 57 with 32 others missing, officials said Wednesday.
A 13-year-old girl was among the latest fatalities in southern Davao del Sur province, where 10 people were injured.
Among the missing were eight fishermen. Two others were rescued when their boat overturned in eastern Quezon province while more than 30 fishermen paddled to safety Tuesday near southwestern Palawan Island, where rains flooded at least six low-lying coastal villages.
Coast guard chief Rear Adm. Wildredo Tamayo said small fishing boats were barred from sailing in critical areas. A barge with four crew members broke loose off Semirara Island and has been drifting since Monday, but the coast guard established radio contact with the crew and was attempting to reach them, Tamayo said.
Above-average rainfall during what is supposed to be the middle of the dry season has drenched about 25 out of the archipelago's 80 provinces, affecting about 1.6 million people. About half a million have received emergency assistance, most of them in the northern and central Philippines.
The head of the government weather bureau, Graciano Yumul, said the rains are caused by a cold front that has been aggravated by the La Nina weather phenomenon, which refers to cooler-than-normal surface temperatures over parts of the Pacific Ocean.
He said that 33 out of 52 rainfall monitoring stations reported above-normal readings in the Philippines from Jan. 1 to 17. The highest rainfall recorded was on Pagasa, an island occupied by Philippine troops in the disputed Spratly chain, which recorded 16.16 inches (410 millimeters) compared with the average .38 inches (9.7 mm).
President Benigno Aquino III said last week he was considering a ban on logging in the country after blaming the floods on denuded forests that experts say have triggered erosion and mudslides.
Illegal logging is a recurring problem in the Philippines made possible by weak law enforcement and corruption.
Aquino's predecessor imposed a similar nationwide ban in 2004 after hundreds were killed in landslides, but it was lifted a year later. The logging ban that has been in place in six southern provinces for the past four years also failed to stop the lucrative business, Aquino said.
(This version CORRECTS Corrects to 57 dead in 1st paragraph; updates with above average precipitation, comments from coast guard chief; adds byline.)