20 dead, 9 missing in slow-moving Philippine storm

Heavy rains and floods battered the northeastern Philippines for a third day Wednesday as the death toll from a slow-moving storm rose to at least 20 with nine others missing.

Waist-deep floodwaters swamped the houses of about half a million people, nearly half of the population of eastern Albay province, after Tropical Storm Nock-ten set off pounding rains since Monday and sent residents to seek shelter in churches and village halls, said Gov. Joey Salceda.

Most of the missing are poor fishermen who ventured out to sea despite the stormy weather, Civil Defense Administrator Benito Ramos said.

The storm made landfall Wednesday in northeastern Aurora province with maximum winds of 59 miles (95 kilometers) per hour and gusts of up to 75 mph (120 kph).

It weakened slightly after hitting land, said forecaster Sonny Pajarilla. It is expected to blow out of the country to the South China Sea by Thursday after cutting through the northern provinces of Quirino, Nueva Vizcaya, Benguet and La Union, he said.

"Many of our towns seemed like islands. They were isolated from each other," Salceda told The Associated Press by telephone from the Albay provincial capital of Legazpi, where he was overseeing rescue efforts for stranded villagers.

Authorities cut off electricity to most of the region to prevent electrocutions, Ramos said.

One of the fatalities was Salceda's mother, who fell on her head after slipping in the dark bathroom of her Legazpi home, Ramos said.

Many areas in Albay and nearby provinces remained submerged Wednesday and at least 20 flights to and from the Bicol region where the province is located have been canceled, Ramos said.

About 1,100 passengers were stranded at various ferry crossings in Bicol and southern Luzon.

A major highway to the Aurora provincial capital of Baler was under about 10 feet (three meters) of floodwater and a landslide blocked another road in the province.

Officials also suspended classes in areas battered by the storm.