Philippine floods toll rises to 51; fishermen missing

01/16/2011 - MANILA, The Philippines- The death toll from more than two weeks of heavy rains in the central and southern Philippines has risen to 51, disaster officials said on Sunday, as authorities stepped up their search for another 16 people missing at sea.

Agriculture and infrastructure damage now exceeds 1.6 billion pesos ($36 million) after floodwaters inundated rural communities in about a third of the country's 80 provinces, said Benito Ramos, head of the government's disaster agency.

Major rice and corn production areas in the north and western parts of the country have been spared from the damaging impact of the persistent rains that began in late December.

Most of the dead either drowned or were buried by mudslides, Ramos said. Nearly 20 people are still missing.

"We're expecting the number of casualties to increase because more people have gone missing," Ramos told Reuters, appealing to fishermen in the central Bicol region to stay onshore until the weather improved.

Search planes and ships are looking for 16 fishermen whose boat capsized in rough seas off the central island of Catanduanes.

In central Cebu City, President Benigno Aquino asked Filipinos to pray for the nearly 1.5 million people affected by floods, promising government aid to feed and temporarily house more than 400,000 displaced people. (

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