Manila: Fishermen joined Philippine navy sailors, police and firefighters in an ever wider search for bodies from entire villages swept away in one of the country's worst flash floods.

More bodies have washed ashore, pushing the death toll to more than 1,200, an official said on Monday.

While more than 60,000 homeless from hundreds of flood-ravaged villages spent a miserable Christmas in jam-packed schools and gymnasiums, search teams retrieved an additional 150 bodies from the sea as far as 60 miles (100 kilometres) from worst-hit Cagayan de Oro and Iligan cities, said Benito Ramos, head of the Office of Civil Defense.

He said it would take three to six months to restore some normalcy and construct temporary housing to free up schools that are now serving as refugee camps.

The death toll as of Monday stood at 1,236, with about two-thirds of the bodies unidentified. With more bodies found floating farther away, Ramos said authorities sought the help of fishermen to scour the sea.

"We've stopped counting the missing. There are no accurate figures," Ramos said. "Those recovered, we don't know who they are. We have a system in place so that families can claim them later, based on fingerprints and dental records."

The United Nations last week launched an urgent appeal for $28 million to help an estimated 600,000 affected people, more than half the population of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan in the southern Mindanao region.

Despite warnings from forecasters, most were asleep December 16 when a tropical storm made a landfall in a region rarely visited by typhoons. It unleashed more than a month's worth of rainfall in 12 hours, sending walls of water gushing into homes.

Many of the dead were women and children who drowned in their beds. Others scrambled to climb roofs to escape the overflowing rivers and muddy waters that carried dangerous debris and logs from nearby mountains. The logs were still floating off the coast.

President Benigno Aquino III, who banned logging in February following previous flooding deaths that experts say were caused partly by deforestation and soil erosion, has ordered an investigation.

Communist guerrillas in the south cancelled Monday’s celebration of their movement's 43rd founding anniversary and instead promised to donate money to flood victims and punish multinational companies they accuse of environmental destruction.

(Agencies)