MANILA, Philippines -- (UPDATE 3) At least 229 people were killed while over 700 others were missing after typhoon "Frank" (international codename: Fengshen) ravaged the Visayas and Southern Luzon, including Metro Manila, Red Cross and civil defense officials said Sunday.
Floods, storm surge, and landslides affected 366,444 people, of which, 70,717 are in evacuation centers as of 6 a.m. Sunday, the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC) said.
In a phone interview with INQUIRER.net, Senator Richard Gordon, head of the national Red Cross, said the death toll could still jump dramatically ?because we still have not gotten the report from Central Luzon.?
At the same time, the toll does not include those dead or missing from a ferry that sank off Sibuyan Island in Romblon province with 747 people aboard. Four people have been confirmed dead and there are four survivors from that accident.
The rest are unaccounted for.
Of those confirmed killed, Gordon said 101 were from Iloilo, 45 from Romblon (not from the sunken passenger ship), six from Antique, and the rest from the provinces of Leyte, Capiz, and Cotabato.
?The bodies are either at the funerarias (funeral parlors) or at the provincial or regional offices of the Department of Health,? he said.
Iloilo suffered the heaviest losses after being hit Saturday by the typhoon that spawned floods, which ran as deep as six feet in the province, forcing tens of thousands to evacuation centers, and caused power outages.
Floodwaters in Iloilo rose so swiftly that many residents were forced to take refuge on rooftops or in the branches of tall trees, said provincial administrator Manuel Mejorada.
The flooding in Iloilo eased Sunday, allowing vehicles to reach once-flooded areas, Mejorada said.
Over 35,500 families had to be evacuated from their homes due to the flooding and risk of landslides, the civil defense office said.
Telephone lines and cellphone towers were down in many areas.
Packing sustained winds of 120 kilometers per hour and gusts of up to 150 kilometers per hour, the typhoon shifted course Sunday to the northwest and battered Manila at dawn, dumping heavy rain on the capital.
Moving northwest at 15 kilometers per hour, the storm is expected to exit through the western coast of Central Luzon by Sunday evening.
The M/V Princess of the Star, carrying 626 passengers and 121 crew members capsized off Sibuyan Island in the central province of Romblon at 6 p.m. Saturday, hours after it went dead at sea due to engine failure.
Gordon said there was still hope for survivors in the capsized ferry since it did not sink and the trapped passengers could be seeking refuge inside the overturned hull.
The Philippine Navy has dispatched two patrol gunboats, one from Masbate province and one from Roxas City, manned by frogmen and equipped with rubber boats, to help in the search, said Navy spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Edgard Arevalo.
The Coast Guard has sent two ships, BRP Pampanga and BRP Davao del Norte, and two others were being readied for deployment, said Vice Admiral Wilfredo Tamayo, commandant of the Philippine Coast Guard.
The Navy would dispatch a bigger ship, the PS28, once the weather conditions permit, Arevalo said.
Gordon said he has sought the help of the United States Armed Forces to deploy rescue helicopters to the site of the capsized ferry.
"Every minute counts," Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said, referring to the rescue efforts on the capsized ship.
About two dozen relatives trooped to the Manila office of Sulpicio Lines, some quietly weeping as they waited for news about their loved ones.
"I'm very worried. I need to know what happened to my family," said Felino Farionin, his voice cracking. His wife, son and four in-laws were on the ferry.
President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who left for the United States late Saturday, talked to officials in a teleconference aired live on nationwide radio Sunday, scolding coast guard officials for allowing the ferry to leave Manila late Friday despite the bad weather.
Ferries are the main form of inter-island transportation in the sprawling Philippine archipelago, site of the world's worst peacetime maritime disaster when the ferry MV Dona Paz sank in 1987, killing more than 4,341 people.
Ermita and Vice President Noli de Castro presided over a meeting of the NDCC at the Department of National Defense in Camp Aguinaldo.
De Castro said the President ordered government agencies to press on with rescue and relief efforts. Another teleconference was set at 3 a.m. Manila time at the Kalayaan Hall in Malacañang Palace.
Romblon Representative Eleandro Jesus Madrona and the Navy spokesman said there were reports some survivors of the ill-fated ferry swam to safety to an islet called Cristo de Gallo, about 30 minutes by rubber boat from the capsized vessel.
The mayor of San Fernando town, Romblon, Nanette Tansingco, who was placed on speakerphone during the NDCC meeting, said a "big" hole was seen on the exposed part of the ship's hull.
Tansingco also made an appeal for medicine, relief supplies, and body bags. Gordon said the request for body bags was for the "decent" handling of the recovered fatalities and did not necessarily mean the government was expecting heavy casualties.
Gordon said the reported hole on the ship could be used by the survivors, who are trapped inside the ship, to escape.
The storm has stranded 5,095 passengers, 288 rolling cargo, 90 trucks, 59 passenger buses, 48 small vehicles, and eight sea vessels, the NDCC said.
Heavy rains and strong winds totally damaged 127 houses and partially damaged 16 others, the NDCC said.
Power outages were reported in Odiongan town, Romblon province, Antique province, and Iloilo City, the agency said.
The military has also readied its troops and vehicles to assist in rescue and relief operations, said Lieutenant Colonel Jonas Lumawag and Captain Carlo Ferrer, spokesmen for the Philippine Marines and the military's Metro Manila command, respectively.
All domestic flights scheduled until 12 noon on Sunday, at the old Manila Domestic Airport, were cancelled due to typhoon Frank, the Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) said.
Philippine Airlines (PAL) announced on dzMM radio that it was resuming normal operations.
There has been no word yet whether flights of other airlines scheduled in the afternoon will be allowed to take off as scheduled after 12 p.m.
PAL, which uses the domestic airport of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport-2, cancelled two flights of its budget brand, PAL Express, to Caticlan. Other domestic flights of PAL and its sister company, Air Philippines have been delayed.
At the old NAIA terminal, a total of 27 international flights coming to and from Manila have either been delayed or cancelled.
Fourteen flights of Northwest Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Singapore Airlines, China Airlines and Continental Micronesia were delayed Sunday morning.
Cebu Pacific cancelled flights to Hong Kong and Taipei, and their respective turnarounds.
Two other flights of Cebu Pacific bound for Manila and coming from Hanoi, Kuala Lumpur, and Bangkok were diverted to Cebu.
Heavy rains caused floods in several parts of Metro Manila, the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) said.
In Araneta Avenue, Maria Clara, a creek has reportedly overflowed, making the area impassable to all types of vehicles.
The MMDA has also received reports of knee-deep floods in Pureza, Manila, making it impassable to light vehicles.
General San Miguel in Malabon also has knee-deep floods and is impassable to light vehicles.
Also not passable to light vehicles were Banaue Retiro and the Park and Fly area near the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, according to the MMDA.
The Quezon Avenue-Araneta route was not passable to light vehicles because of tire-deep floods.
In Acacia Lane, Shaw Boulevard, tire-deep floods were recorded but the area was still passable, according to the MMDA metrobase.
Floods in EDSA Bagong Barrio, MCU-Monumento, roads en route to Nichols and NAIA, Andrew Tramo, and Gate 4 Camp Aguinaldo were all recorded to be gutter deep, still passable to vehicles.
In Tacloban City, the Office of Civil Defense (OCD) reported P888.50 million in damage to agriculture and infrastructure in the Eastern Visayas.
Public storm signal number 3 (100 to 185 kilometer per hour winds) was raised in Metro Manila, Batangas, Laguna, Cavite, Rizal, Bulacan, northern Quezon, southern Aurora, Nueva Ecija, Pampanga, Bataan, Zambales, Tarlac, Pangasinan, Benguet, and La Union.
Signal number 2 (60 to 100 kilometer per hour winds) was raised in the Mindoro provinces, Lubang sland, Marinduque, the Bondoc Peninsula, Polilio Island, the rest of Aurora, Quirino, Nueva Vizcaya, Ifugao, Mountain Province, and Ilocos Sur.
Signal number 1 (30 to 60 kilometer per hour winds) was raised in the Calamian Group of Islands, Romblon, Camarines Norte, Isabela, Cagayan, Kalinga, Payao, Abra, and Ilocos Norte.