Philippine Flood Toll Reaches 54

MANILA (Reuters) – The Philippine coast guard imposed a fishing ban on Tuesday covering central and southern parts of the country as the death toll from three weeks of rains rose to 54 and the damage bill topped 1.7 billion pesos ($38 million).

Authorities are preventing small fishing boats from going out to sea as searches were stepped up search for more than 30 fishermen missing in western Palawan and central Bicol regions.

“We’re advising small fishing boats to suspend operations due (to) strong winds and giant waves brought by the tail-end of the cold front,” Vice Admiral Wilfredo Tamayo of the Coast Guard said.

There have been more than half a dozen accidents over the past week due to rough seas, Tamayo told reporters, adding there were fears the missing fishermen were dead.

Floodwaters have inundated about a third of the country’s 80 provinces, but major rice and corn production areas in the north and western parts of the country have so far been spared.

Benito Ramos, head of the government’s disaster agency, said the rains, which the weather bureau have said could last until late next month, have so far affected about 1.6 million people.

Ramos said most of the dead either drowned or were buried by mudslides. More than 2,000 houses have been destroyed.

Most roads on the central island of Samar remained submerged and impassable, and some bridges were washed out, Ramos added.

(Reporting by Manny Mogato; Editing by John Mair)

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