Death Toll Climbs To 31, 62 Rescued As 3 Boats Capsize

Rescuers recovered more bodies in rough seas where three ferry boats capsized after being buffeted by fierce winds and waves off two central Philippine provinces, bringing the death toll to 31 with three missing, the coast guard said Sunday.

Coast guard spokesman Armand Balilo said the dead were mostly passengers of two ferries that flipped over in sudden wind gusts and powerful waves Saturday off Guimaras and Iloilo provinces. Sixty-two other passengers and crew were rescued.

A third ferry, which was not carrying any passengers, also capsized in the Iloilo Strait but its five crewmen survived, Balilo said.

Survivors recounted how the sky suddenly turned dark midway through their trip, followed by strong winds and rain that battered their ferries.

Authorities wondered why a third ferry was allowed to sail about three hours after two other ferries overturned almost at the same time at noon in bad weather.

Forecasters have warned of heavy monsoon rains, thunderstorms and rain-triggered landslides amid a tropical depression more than 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) off the country’s eastern coast.

Classes and work were suspended in metropolitan Manila on Friday and Saturday amid heavy rains and flooding, which caused intense traffic jams in low-lying areas of the capital.

About 20 typhoons and storms batter the Philippines each year, making the archipelago that lies on the Pacific typhoon and earthquake belt one of the world’s most disaster-prone countries.

Meanwhile the death toll from the capsize of three Philippine ferries in bad weather rose to 31 on Sunday as rescuers found more bodies, a coast guard official said.

The motorized, wooden-hulled boats were carrying a total 96 passengers and crew when harsh weather conditions caused the vessels to overturn off the central island of Guimaras and Iloilo provinces on Saturday.

The search continues for three more people still missing, Philippine Coast Guard spokesman Commander Armand Balilo said. The rest of the crew and passengers were rescued.

Disaster officials reported 11 deaths on Saturday.

Balilo said a third ferry was not carrying passengers and all of its five crew members survived.

The number of casualties from the coast guard is higher than the death toll being reported by the Iloilo disaster agency which was at 25 as of 0900 GMT.

Scores of people die each year from ferry accidents in the Philippines, an archipelago of 7,100 islands with a poor record for maritime safety.