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At Least 31 People Survive Philippines Ferry Sinking; 800 Others Still Missing


At least 31 survivors have been found from a capsized ferry in the central Philippines but more than 800 people remain missing after the ship went down during a typhoon that ravaged parts of the island nation. Five people from the ferry are confirmed dead. Douglas Bakshian reports from Manila.

The Philippine coast guard says many of the survivors were located Monday in a coastal village. They made it ashore Sunday after drifting for more than 24 hours in a rubber boat and life jackets.

The ferry capsized Saturday near the central island of Sibuyan. A number of coast guard, navy and private rescue vessels are at the scene, looking for survivors. The head of the coast guard says divers would like to enter the wreck but rough seas are making that difficult.

The ferry was carrying more than 800 passengers and crew when it went down. The shipping company that owned the vessel says it was seaworthy and capable of carrying almost 2,000 people.

When the ferry left Manila weather conditions were considered suitable for the voyage. However, the weather shifted when Typhoon Fengshen changed direction and turned west into the path of the ship.

The U.S. Pacific Command has sent a rescue ship with helicopters to assist with recovery efforts. A U.S. Navy surveillance plane also has been ordered to the Philippines.

Relief efforts continue in Iloilo province on the island of Panay, which was hardest hit by the typhoon. The Philippine Red Cross estimates the storm claimed more than 140 lives nationwide, excluding the ferry deaths.

Red Cross head Richard Gordon says parts of Iloilo are still suffering from heavy flooding.

"For Iloilo and the island of Panay this is really a shock treatment. The last time I was told that they had this was sometime in 1943, when suddenly they had flash floods," he saidl "This is really bad… a lot of people are really suffering here. And hopefully we can get them back on their feet as quickly as we can."

The Red Cross distributed food Monday in Iloilo and put in sanitation equipment to provide clean water to survivors.

The Philippines is an archipelago of more than 7,000 islands and is hit by a number of typhoons and storms each year. It also suffers frequent shipping accidents, caused by weather, poor ship maintenance or unsafe operating practices.

Philippine President Gloria Arroyo, who is in the United States on an official visit, held a video conference with disaster officials and said coast guard protocols should be reviewed to prevent other such ferry accidents.