Philippine typhoon death toll rises to 53

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The death toll from a typhoon that hit the Philippines rose sharply to 53 Saturday, officials said, warning the number of dead could go up further with dozens of others missing days after the disaster.

In some rare good news, three fishermen were plucked by passing colleagues from waters off the Bicol region, after Typhoon Conson destroyed their boat on Tuesday, an army statement quoted survivor Victor Bordeos as saying.

"Our boat capsized and (was) torn in half during the height of the storm," Bordeos said.

Eight other members of the crew are among 43 people still missing in the typhoon-prone waters southeast of Manila, regional army spokesman Major Harold Cabunoc said.

Air force helicopters and navy aircraft are combing the calming seas to find the missing, he added.

Conson struck the main island of Luzon including the capital Manila with surprising ferocity overnight Tuesday after state weather forecasters incorrectly predicted that the typhoon would hit further north.

The first typhoon to batter the country this year destroyed thousands of homes, sank or damaged 62 boats, uprooted trees that crushed people to death, snapped power lines and disrupted aviation.

It took utility firms more than two days to restore electricity to a near-paralysed capital.

The government's National Disaster Coordinating Council on Saturday raised the death toll to 53 from 39 as the coast guard and other rescuers found more bodies at sea at the mouth of Manila Bay and off Bicol.

It put the number of overall missing at 85.

By Saturday morning the coast guard said it was still struggling to contain two oil spills caused by the wrecked watercraft, one of which severed an underwater oil pipe of a local refiner at the mouth of Manila Bay.

The Philippines is in the so-called typhoon belt of the Pacific. Up to 20 typhoons sweep through the country each year, killing hundreds of people.

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