106 die in storm and 3,000 are left homeless

THE death toll in a Christmas, Day tropical storm in eastern Malaysia rose to 106 yesterday, as rescuers began the grim task …

THE death toll in a Christmas, Day tropical storm in eastern Malaysia rose to 106 yesterday, as rescuers began the grim task of identifying bodies pulled from rivers and under debris.

Police said some 3,000 people were left homeless after tropical storm Greg blew ashore in the state of Sabah from the South China Sea.

Sabah Police Commissioner, Mr Maizan Shaari, said that only four of the bodies recovered had so far been identified.

The death toll was expected to rise further as some 100 more people were still missing, he said.

The storm hit land at up to 44 mph and ripped down houses and thatched huts, raging for several hours on Christmas night before dissipating and moving east, the" Malaysian Metereological services Department said.

The department said it had issued warnings of widespread thunderstorms and rough sea conditions expected around Sabah during the next two days.

The Maritime Rescue and Coordination Centre in Malaysia said several ships were driven to shallow waters in the South China Sea by the storm.

"We have reports of about five to six boats missing near Sabah and can only search at daylight," a centre spokesman said.

The worst hit area was Keningau, 95 miles south of Sabah's capital Kota Kinabalu, where 102 bodies were found floating in rivers or buried under debris.

The Malaysian news agency Bernama said about 500 homes in nine villages in Keningau had been swept away by floods. It said buildings in Kota Kinabalu were also damaged.

Sabah is a popular holiday destination but officials said Keningau, a logging town of 60,000, was not a regular tourist haunt. They said "initial findings" showed no foreigners among the dead.

All communications and road access between Kota Kinabalu and Keningau, hidden under thick forest cover and nestled between mountains, had been cut. It was one of the worst storms to hit Sabah in living memory.

There was no immediate indication of damage to crops. Sabah is a major grower of cocoa but Keningau supplies only a small portion of the crop, growers said.