Rescuers sawed through wreckage to free dozens of passengers trapped inside an overcrowded vessel that capsized in a sudden gale, leaving at least 51 people dead and one missing, officials said Saturday.

Other passengers of the ship - taking 130 revelers home from a village fiesta when it capsized early Friday - clung to the side of the vessel, which had a capacity of 34. Rescuers took 78 survivors to remote villages along the coast of Eastern Samar province, about 400 miles southeast of Manila.A rescuer described a scene of mayhem as rescuers sawed through the wreckage of the vessel "Balangiga" to free dozens of passengers trapped inside the capsized boat in the nation's worst shipwreck since the Dona Paz sank with 1,600 passengers 11 months ago.

"Many of the people were wounded and bleeding from the broken wood and nails," said boat owner Jose Hugo, who led the rescue effort. "We had to saw through the back of the boat to get to the people inside. Most of the dead were children."

Coast Guard officials in Tacloban, about 30 miles from the wreck site, said the 73-foot, twin-deck Balangiga set out Thursday evening from the village of Giporlos after its annual fiesta, carrying home family members who had gathered from nearby provinces.

The vessel had traveled 30 miles through the Leyte Gulf when a sudden squall described as a "mini-tornado" turned it over at 1:30 a.m. Friday, said Coast Guard spokesman Lt. Cesar Cajigas.

He said the ship captain, Vicente Base, and five other men rowed 1 mile to shore in a life raft to rally help from a nearby village.