BUTUAN CITY, December 20, 2003  (STAR) By Ben Serrano - More families fled their homes yesterday as floodwaters, spawned by heavy rains since Monday, continued to rise yesterday in low-lying areas in most parts of the Caraga region.

Worst-hit were the cities of Butuan, Bislig and Surigao, their respective disaster coordinating councils said.

As of press time, the death toll was placed at 15, with scores still missing. Continued heavy rains and strong winds hampered search and rescue operations.

Local officials of Caraga’s four provinces, three cities and 71 municipalities placed their respective areas under a "state of calamity" yesterday.

The misery of the regional folk, however, would continue. A low pressure area east of Mindanao would bring more rains, according to the weather bureau.

Meanwhile, a luxury passenger ship of Sulpicio Lines, MV Paradise, with about 265 passengers and 90 crewmembers, ran aground just a mile away from the Nasipit port in Agusan del Norte Thursday night, Coast Guard officials said.

As of press time, the passengers remained holed out inside the ship as rescue vessels were grounded at the Nasipit port.

"We have to wait until the huge waves and strong currents subside before we start the rescue operations," Coast Guard Senior Chief Petty Officer Nestor Estoque told The STAR.

Flash floods also triggered landslides in Surigao del Norte and Sur.

In Tago, Bayabas and Cortes towns in Surigao del Sur, hundreds of commuters, mostly vacationers, have been stranded since Thursday because landslides have rendered the road leading to Tandag town impassable.

At least five more towns in Surigao del Sur were reported to be inundated, while three wooden bridges collapsed.

Meanwhile, the flash floods killed three more people in Bayugan and Esperanza towns in Agusan del Sur, bringing the total number of casualties in the province to five.

In Agusan del Norte, three people were killed when an ambulance was washed away by strong currents along the national highway in Barangay Cuyago, Jabonga town yesterday morning.

Electricity was cut off in Jabonga as electric posts collapsed. The national highway connecting Surigao City and Butuan City was still impassable as floodwaters reached seven feet high — and were still rising.

According to the Office of Civil Defense, 6,431 families in at least 79 barangays in the Caraga region were affected by the flooding.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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