MANILA, Philippines Rescuers fought the tail of a typhoon swamping the Philippines to reach a capsized ferry Sunday only to find a mystery scant signs of the more than 740 passengers and crew.
Only 10 wave-battered survivors are known to have made it to land, just hours after the ferry, brought to a virtual halt by the storm that killed at least 137 people nationwide, suddenly tilted and went belly up in about a half-hour around noon Saturday.
Six bodies, including a man and woman who had bound themselves together, washed ashore on a high tide awash with children's slippers and life jackets.
So where were the rest of the people traveling from Manila to Cebu, relying on ferries as so many do in the sprawling archipelago? Safe on nearby islands where the storm cut off communications? Swallowed by the sea? Or still inside the hulking vessel built to carry 1,992 people?
Relatives wept while waiting for news.
Coast guard frogmen who managed to get to the stricken ship got no response when they rapped on the hull with metal instruments late Sunday, then had to give up for the night due to the strong waves. They hoped to get inside on Monday, likely with U.S. assistance requested by the Philippine Red Cross.
After the storm stymied earlier attempts to reach the ship and kept aircraft at bay, a rescue vessel battled huge waves and strong winds to approach Sunday, more than 24 hours after the ferry lost radio contact. There was no sign of survivors at the site.
"They haven't seen anyone. They're scouring the area. They're studying the direction of the waves to determine where survivors may have drifted," coast guard spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Arman Balilo said.
Officials were checking reports that a large number of survivors might have reached one nearby island and that a lift raft was spotted off another, coast guard spokesman Cmdr. Antonio Cuasito said.
"We can only pray that there are many survivors so we can reduce the number of casualties," he said.
Reynato Lanoria, a janitor on the ship, estimated about 100 people could have survived, "but the others were trapped inside."
"I think they are all dead by now," he told DZMM radio after making it to shore by jumping in the water and reaching a life raft.
Lanoria said he was on the top deck when a crew member ordered people to put on life vests around 11:30 a.m. Saturday. About 30 minutes later, the ship began tilting so fast that elderly people and children fell on the rain-slickened deck.
Passenger Jesus Gica also worried that many people were trapped below when the ship listed.
"There were many of us who jumped overboard, but we were separated because of the big waves," he said. "The others were also able to board the life rafts, but it was useless because the strong winds flipped them over."
The ferry initially ran aground a few miles (kilometers) off central Sibuyan island Saturday, then capsized, said Mayor Nanette Tansingco of Sibuyan's San Fernando.
With the upturned ferry visible from her town, she appealed for food, medicine and formalin to embalm bodies.
Pope Benedict XVI said Sunday he was praying for the victims of the ferry disaster, particularly the large number of children aboard. The Philippines is predominantly Catholic.
The typhoon lashed the central Philippines on Saturday, setting off landslides and floods, knocking out power and blowing off roofs.
In the central province of Iloilo, Gov. Neil Tupaz said 59 people drowned, with another 40 missing.
"Almost all the towns are covered by water. It's like an ocean," Tupaz said.
Packing sustained winds of 74 miles per hour and gusts of up to 93 mph the typhoon shifted course Sunday to the northwest and battered Manila at dawn, dumping heavy rain on the capital. Major streets were flooded, and numerous traffic lights were out.
Anthony Golez, deputy chief of the Office of Civil Defense, said the storm took an erratic path and never slowed down when it hit land with huge deluges of rain.
Rescue vessels aborted an initial attempt Saturday to get to the 23,824-ton ferry. Efforts resumed in stormy weather Sunday, coast guard chief Vice Adm. Wilfredo Tamayo said, although the churning sea kept smaller vessels away. Four coast guard ships and three from the navy were deployed, and the air force was asked to send aircraft as soon as the weather clears.
The ferry with 626 passengers and 121 crew members on board was "dead in the water" after its engine failed around noon Saturday, Tamayo said.
About two dozen relatives trooped to the Manila office of Sulpicio Lines, the ferry's owner, some quietly weeping as they waited for news about their loved ones.
"I'm very worried. I need to know what happened to my family," said Felino Farionin, his voice cracking. His wife, son and four in-laws were on the ferry.
President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who left for the United States late Saturday, talked to officials in a teleconference aired live on nationwide radio Sunday, scolding coast guard officials for allowing the ferry to leave Manila late Friday despite the bad weather.The typhoon-prone Philippines was the site of the world's worst peacetime maritime disaster when the ferry MV Dona Paz sank in 1987, killing more than 4,341 people.
Associated Press writers Jim Gomez and Oliver Teves contributed to this report