Storm death toll:126

THE death toll from a storm that devastated the Philippines shortly after Christmas rose to 126, authorities said Sunday, adding landslides caused by torrential rain were the top cause.

The storm hit central and eastern Philippine islands on December 29 and caused massive flooding and landslides. More than 100 people died in the mountainous Bicol region southeast of Manila, regional disaster officials said.

While the Bicol region is often hit by deadly typhoons, many people failed to take necessary precautions because the storm was not strong enough to be rated as a typhoon under the government's storm alert system, according to civil defense officials.

Officials also said that many residents were reluctant to leave their homes during the Christmas holidays.

"In two days alone, Usman poured more than a month's worth of rainfall in the Bicol region," national disaster agency spokesman Edgar Posadas told AFP, using the local name for the storm which had weakened into a low pressure area.

"Our search and retrieval operations are ongoing but the sticky mud and the unstable soil are a challenge."

The death toll was likely to climb further with 26 people still missing, Posadas added.