At least 144 survivors were rescued Wednesday from a cluster of islands in the stormy Visayan Sea where a ferry carrying 481 people sank at the height of Typhoon Ruby, shipping officials said. Government officials placed the confirmed death toll at 32.
The officials said they expected to find more survivors of the ill-fated Dona Marilyn on islands rescuers were unable to look into because of continued stormy weather a day after Ruby left the country. The loss of the Dona Marilyn was the nation's worst disaster since the sinking of its sister ship the Dona Paz almost a year ago.A Coast Guard official said 142 survivors were fetched by a coast guard cutter and three helicopters from islands where they had been previously spotted, brought to Al-magro island and put aboard the ferry Cebu Princess bound for nearby Tacloban city.
Two other survivors were found in Cal-bayog city on Samar island, said Sulpicio Lines, the ship's owner.
Lt. Leogardo Acebedo, executive officer of the Cebu City coast guard station who flew to Almagro, said contrary to earlier reports the 2,856-ton Dona Marilyn did not develop engine trouble but capsized after sending a distress message when it encountered giant waves spawned by Ruby on Monday afternoon.
"The survivors said the huge waves poured plenty of water into the ship, causing it to list starboard until it overturned," Acebedo said by telephone.
"The captain tried to beach the ship at Almagro, but he could not do it. The ship went down about five miles from Almagro," Acebedo said. He said the survivors told him they swam clinging on debris or used lifeboats to reach the nearby islands through 16-foot waves.
He said the survivors reported that the captain did not seek shelter earlier when typhoon warnings were broadcast because "he thought the vessel could still make it to Tacloban."
Acebedo said 18 of the 26 bodies recovered were buried in a mass grave at Alma-gro. The eight others were ferried to Taclo-ban with the survivors. Another body was found in another island earlier.
The Red Cross and government agencies reported a total of 63 other deaths nationwide resulting from Typhoon Ruby, including 26 people trapped in a bus when a bridge gave way, plunging the vehicle into a raging river in central Antique province. Most other deaths were also by drowning.
Authorities in Manila began distributing relief goods to some 100,000 capital-area residents made homeless by the storm, which finally churned out of the islands into the South China Sea late Tuesday.