Residents wade through the flooding in Cagayan de Oro city in the Philippines. Photo: Reuters / Froilan Gallardo

Mudslides and flash foods have killed at least 200 people after a tropical storm battered the southern Philippines. Rescue teams are still searching for victims, but they have yet to reach the affected areas on Mindanao island.

More than 70,000 Filipinos were forced to leave their homes as Storm Tembin swept through the region. Heavy rain, power cuts and blocked roads have hindered rescue operations.

The Philippines is battered by about 20 typhoons a year and warnings are routinely issued. But the level of destruction wreaked by Tembin shocked officials in the region.

“The figure could increase as we continue to received reports from the field as the weather improves,” a police spokesman on Mindanao, Superintendent Lemuel Gonda, told Reuters when referring to the death toll. “We are slowly restoring power and communications in affected areas.”

Earlier on Sunday, Tembin, known as Vinta in the Philippines, was south of the Spratly Islands and heading towards southern Vietnam. It then increased in strength with maximum winds of 120 kilometers per hour or 75 mph.

The army and the police joined emergency workers and volunteers to search for survivors and victims, clear debris and restore power and communications.

Officials pointed out that villagers had ignored warnings to leave coastal areas and move away from riverbanks. Many were swept away in flash floods and landslides.

Andrew Morris, from the United Nations children’s agency Unicef in Mindanao, stressed that restoring clean water supplies would be a priority to combat the spread of disease.

“Lanao del Sur province is the poorest in the Philippines, and in the past seven months there have been around 350,000 people displaced in that province because of fighting,” he told the BBC, referring to battles between government forces and Islamist militants in Marawi.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) highlighted the depth of the problem with so many displaced people.

“They left everything behind when they fled for their lives,” Patrick Elliott, the IFRC’s Philippines operations and programs manager Patrick Elliott, told Channel NewsAsia.

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