06/23/2008, 00.00
PHILIPPINES
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Typhoon Fengshen, more than 1,000 dead or missing

by Santosh Digal
Prayers were said for the victims yesterday in the country's churches, and the pope expressed his own "spiritual closeness" at the Angelus. Little hope of finding survivors among the passengers of a sunken ship, as damage assessment begins.

Manila (AsiaNews) - The list of victims of Typhoon "Fenghsen" continues to grow, after the storm struck the Philippines last Saturday, leaving behind at least 1,000 dead or missing, many of them on board a ship that capsised in the violent waves.  Meanwhile, yesterday the Catholics of the country gathered in prayer to manifest sorrow and solidarity for the victims and their families; a nearness expressed also by Benedict XVI during the Angelus in Saint Peter's Square, during which he addressed a prayer "for the victims of this new tragedy of the seas", with a special thought for the children involved.

The cyclone struck the Philippines on Saturday, leaving death and destruction behind: the first assessment made yesterday showed 229 certified deaths and hundreds of people missing on land, to which must be added the 800 people on board a ship (editor's note: in the photo, a detail of the wreck) that capsised near the central island of Sibuyan, in the province of Romblon.

The "Princess of Stars", a ship of more than 23,000 tonnes, had left Manila for Cebu when it was struck by the violent cyclone a few kilometres from Sibuyan.  Only 38 of the people on board were able to swim to shore; for the hundreds of other passengers - many of them children - there is now little hope of finding anyone alive.  The ship capsised after being struck by the waves.  It sent out an emergency signal, but immediately afterward radio contact was interrupted.  Yesterday, coast guard divers sought to identify the wreckage of the ship, but had to stop late in the evening because of bad weather.  The efforts were resumed this morning: Red Cross Philippines asked for help from the United States navy, but it is not clear what kind of assistance the U.S. troops may provide.

Meanwhile, the authorities have sketched out an initial - and temporary - balance of the damage: thousands of families have been left homeless, especially in the region of Visayas; entire areas are with out electricity; most of the transport links have been interrupted at least until midnight tonight, when the cyclone will leave the country and head toward the coast of Taiwan. Anthony Golez, deputy chief of the office of civil defence, affirms that "the typhoon did not lose intensity", not even when "it reached the coast", dumping "massive quantities of water".

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