Iligan (Philippines): Tropical storm Washi whipped the southern Philippines, unleashing mammoth floods across vast areas that left 440 people dead and nearly 200 missing, relief workers said on Sunday.

About 20,000 soldiers had been mobilised in a huge rescue and relief operation across the stricken north coast of the island of Mindanao, where the major ports of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan were worst hit.

Cagayan de Oro city reported 215 dead, and nearby Iligan city lost 144 residents, Philippine National Red Cross Secretary General Gwen Pang said.

Iligan mayor Lawrence Cruz described rampaging floodwaters from swollen rivers that swamped up to a quarter of the land area of the city of 1,00,000.

"It's the worst flood in the history of our city," Cruz told GMA television. "It happened so fast, at a time when people were fast asleep."

The station showed dramatic pictures of a family escaping out of the window of their home in the town as the floods rose, and rescue workers in orange vests shepherding survivors to safety above chest-deep waters.

President Benigno Aquino expressed concern at the extent of the tragedy and ordered government agencies to map out areas in the country most vulnerable to future flash floods.

"These areas will be at risk every year... The first (step in) mitigation has to be relocation from these areas," he said in a meeting with senior civil defence officials.

Benito Ramos, head of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council told reporters Mindanao residents were warned about the dangers posed by the storm days earlier but elected not to move to safer areas.
(Agencies)