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Typhoon Fengshen Kills Hundreds in Philippines
More than 700 were passengers on a ferry that sank in central Philippines on Saturday
Alex Argote (alexphil)     Print Article 
Published 2008-06-23 14:56 (KST)   
This article is only lightly edited.  <Editor's Note>
A murderous Pacific howler, internationally code-named Fengshen, recently made a violent sojourn in the storm-swept Philippines last Saturday and left as much damage and death as it can heap upon a nation that is getting poorer day by day.

The typhoon, locally called Frank, dumped millions of tons of rainwater in the Visayas Islands and on a big part of Southern Luzon, the biggest island of the Philippine archipelago.

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Iloilo, a booming city of the Hiligaynon tribe in Negros Island, suffered the main brunt of Fengshen's wrath as flood waters rose to more than 10 feet and submerged large swaths of the city, forcing 80,000 urban residents to flee to higher ground.

When the waters receded, more than 200 were found dead, drowned in the surging flood that rampaged in many areas of Iloilo.

But still, Fengshen hungered for more blood, and sought to find more victims as it howled in cold fury across the central Philippines. It did not take long in hunting for more. This time, the second tragedy struck when the storm overtook a stranded passenger-cargo ferryboat that should never have been permitted to leave port.

The ill-fated vessel, M/V Princess of the Stars, was en-route to the second largest city of Cebu when it received radio orders to seek safety in nearby islands. The ship's captain followed the orders but unfortunately, the main engines died out and the boat was helplessly wallowing in the open sea, in the direct path of the rampaging Fengshen.

Although a pitiful few were able to swim to the safety of nearby rocks, authorities must contend with the painful reality of over 700 passengers and crew whom many feared have drowned in the enormous waves of the furious sea. The latest maritime tragedy of this impoverished, struggling Filipino nation came in the midst of typhoon Fengshen's assault on the Philippines and while the country's controversial chief executive, Gloria Arroyo, is on a trip to the United States to kowtow to President Bush.

Earlier on Sunday, local time, the US-bound Arroyo scolded the coast guard chief Vice admiral Wilfredo Tamayo over wireless phone on why M/V Princess of Stars was allowed to sail from the port of Manila despite of the clear and present danger of the raging Pacific storm. She then proceeded on her meeting with Bush instead of returning home.

Tamayo ordered his rescue ships to come to the aid of the ferry boat, which had become stranded close to the central island of Sibuyan when its overworked and untended engines finally conked-out. Inclement weather prevented the coastguard vessels from reaching the doomed boat on time. Aircraft like powerful helicopters are out of the question as the corrupt-ridden country is unable to sufficiently equip its major services with the means necessary to conduct fast response operations on times of extreme needs. Seeking every window of opportunity, the rescue ships hoped that the weather would finally allow safe passage to the disaster area.

But the hundreds of terrified souls on board the dilapidated ferryboat, which also brought heavy cargo on its hold, were destined to meet their ghastly end in the hungry jaws of the sea. The Princess of Stars, impotent and powerless with dead engines, was at the mercy of 10-foot waves which battered her as she drifted dangerously close to shore rocks, which eventually punctured her hull.

Filled with water, the boat finally capsized at around 11 a.m., with no rescue ship in sight. Survivors who swam from the horrific scene described a watery hell of screaming, crying children, and hundreds upon hundreds of lifeless bodies tossing about in the frothing sea.

Evidence of the terrible loss of lives soon reached nearby coastal communities as wreckage from the sunk boat drifted toward the shores of Sibuyan island. Residents of the coastal town of San Fernando reported finding many children's slippers and other footwear but no sign of their lost owners. The town mayor, Nannete Tansingco, said that many life jackets also washed onshore.

Finally, a police speedboat managed to reach the watery graveyard of the ship and its unfortunate passengers. The police officers reported that the vessel flipped over and only its bow is visible and that it suffered an very big hole amidships, which likely caused the ill-starred Princess of Stars to fill with sea water quickly.

Here in the Philippines, impoverished Filipinos have no choice but risk their lives in riding on often over-crowded ferries that ply the numerous islands of the Philippine archipelago. Despite recent accidents, many ship owners refuse to replace their aging vessels.

Soon, the shipping offices of Sulpicio Lines, the owner of Princess of the Stars, were besieged with thousands of relatives anxious to learn the fate of loved ones. A tearful Isadora Salinas hoped and prayed that her family is still alive as she and another sister, Lina Salinas, pressed the offices of Sulpicio for information concerning the ferry. Salinas said that port officials should have not allowed the passenger-cargo boat to leave.

Even then, ill-fortune has followed Sulpicio Lines through decades of turbulent sailing business. In 1987, in what is considered as the worst peacetime sea disaster in the world, an aging Sulpicio ship Dona Paz, collided with a fuel tanker in central Philippines, caught fire and eventually sank in the deep waters of the Philippine Sea. Estimates put the death toll at more than 4,000, including passengers and crew.

©2008 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Alex Argote

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