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BIG WAVES IN ILOILO STRAIT

Death toll in capsized motorboats rises to 31

Death toll in capsized motorboats rises to 31

SEA TRAGEDY Fishermen carry the body of a passenger, one of at least 31 who died after their motorboats capsized in the waters between Iloilo City and Guimaras Island during stormy weather on Saturday afternoon. —AFP/PHILIPPINE COAST GUARD

Rescuers on Sunday plucked more bodies in rough seas where three motorboats capsized after being buffeted by strong wind and big waves off Iloilo and Guimaras provinces on Saturday, bringing the death toll to 31, the Philippine Coast Guard said.

Commodore Allan de la Vega, Coast Guard commander for Western Visayas, said the three motorboats carried more than 90 passengers and crew.

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De la Vega said that as of 3 p.m. on Sunday, 62 passengers and crew had been rescued, while three others remained missing.

The motorboats Chi-Chi and Jenny Vince flipped over in sudden gusts of wind and powerful waves on Saturday off Guimaras and Iloilo.

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Iloilo disaster officials said the Chi-Chi carried 43 passengers and four crew, while the Jenny Vince had 40 passengers and four crew.

A third motorboat, the Keziah, which was not carrying any passenger, also capsized in the Iloilo Strait, but its five crewmen survived.

The civil defense office in Western Visayas gave figures at 5:30 p.m. on Sunday that conflicted with the information from the Coast Guard.

It said the total number of passengers was 86, with 27 dead, 53 rescued and six missing.

The Chi-Chi and the Keziah capsized past noon while sailing to Jordan town in Guimaras from Iloilo City.

The Jenny Vince overturned around 3:30 p.m. while crossing to Iloilo City from Buenavista town in Guimaras.

Many of the fatalities were residents of Guimaras. Some were from Iloilo City and other areas, Guimaras Gov. Samuel Gumarin said on Sunday.

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Jose Roberto Nuñez, Western Visayas civil defense director, said rescuers led by coast guards had difficulty extracting bodies from the overturned boats because of strong wind and almost-zero visibility.

Trips suspended

Boat trips between Iloilo and Guimaras were suspended following the accidents.

Survivors, according to Gumarin, recounted how the sky suddenly turned dark midway on their trip, followed by strong wind and rain that battered their boats.

“They told us they felt their boat being lifted in the air and then slammed into the water,” Gumarin told reporters.

Travel between Iloilo City and Guimaras was considered safe on Saturday, as the trip lasted only 15 to 30 minutes.

“The skies were clear and the waters were calm. But this changed all of a sudden,” Gumarin said.

Disaster officials said they wanted an investigation to determine if there were lapses in security.

One question they wanted answered was why the Jenny Vince was allowed to sail after the first two boats capsized three hours earlier and rescue operations were already going on.

“We hope this tragedy will serve as a lesson [to] other islands,” Gumarin said.

Meanwhile, the body of Romilo Elefan, a resident of Binalbagan, Negros Occidental province, who drowned in waters off Sitio Aslum on Saturday, was found about 2 p.m. on Sunday, police said.

Elefan got off the boat that was carrying his family and tried to drag it to shore but he was swept away by a strong current.

His body was found at neighboring Sitio San Isidro in Barangay San Juan.

Forecasters warned of heavy monsoon rains, thunderstorms and rain-triggered landslides on Sunday amid a tropical storm more than 1,000 kilometers off the country’s eastern coast.

300 families evacuated

In Zambales province, 300 families were evacuated on Sunday after big waves pounded their homes along the coast at Barangay Bangan in Botolan town.

The displaced families were staying in the Senior Citizen Building in Botolan.

Strong currents pushed a Vietnamese fishing vessel and a lifeboat carrying medicines onto the shore on Saturday.

Residents found the wrecked fishing vessel at Cabangan town and the lifeboat at Iba town.

In Bataan, a wooden bridge at Barangay Sibacan in Balanga City was swept away by floodwaters during heavy rain.

Angel Ortiz Luis, Bataan information officer, said the temporary bridge had been put up by the city government while a new, concrete bridge was being built.

Flooded towns

Incessant rain also destroyed part of a house at Barangay Lamao in Limay town.

In Bulacan province, the public market in Balagtas town was submerged in floodwaters that also caused heavy vehicular traffic.

The towns of Calumpit, Paombong and Marilao were also flooded.—Reports from Tina G. Santos, Nestor P. Burgos Jr., Carla Gomez, Joanna Rose Aglibot, Greg Refraccion, Carmela Reyes-Estrope, Joel Franco and AP

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