NEW BATAAN, Philippines — The number of people missing after a typhoon devastated parts of the southern Philippines jumped to nearly 900 after families and fishing companies reported losing contact with more than 300 fishermen at sea, officials said Sunday.
The fishermen from southern General Santos city and nearby Sarangani province left a few days before Typhoon Bopha hit the main southern island of Mindanao on Tuesday, triggering flash floods that killed more than 600, said Benito Ramos, civil defense chief.
Ramos said the fishermen were traveling to the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea and to the Pacific Ocean. He said there has been no contact from them for a week.
‘‘We have declared them missing,’’ he said. ‘‘Maybe they are still alive.’’
Ramos said they may have sought shelter on the many small islands in the Spratlys and the Celebes Sea.
He said the coast guard, navy, and fishing vessels have begun a search.
After hitting the southern Philippines, the typhoon moved out to sea but then came back toward the country’s northwest Saturday, fueling fears of more devastation. As of late Sunday, however, it had begun to dissipate as it moved farther into the South China Sea, 65 miles west of the Philippines’ Ilocos Norte
Rescuers continued searching for bodies or signs of life under fallen trees and boulders in the worst-hit town of New Bataan, where rocks and other rubble destroyed landmarks, making it harder to search sites where houses once stood.