Filipinos ride a boat as they cross a flooded street in Manila, Philippines, in September. File picture: Aaron Favila/AP

Zamboanga, Philippines - A tropical storm unleashed flash floods and set off landslides in the southern Philippines at a peak time for travel and Christmas preparations, leaving at least 53 dead and several missing, officials said Saturday.

Mayor Bong Edding of Zamboanga del Norte province's Sibuco town told The Associated Press by telephone that a search and rescue was underway for more than 30 people swept away by flash floods in the fishing village of Anungan. Five bodies have been recovered in the village.

"The floodwaters from the mountain came down so fast and swept away people and houses," Edding said. "It's really sad because Christmas is just a few days away but these things happen beyond our control."

Edding blamed years of logging in the mountain near Anungan for the tragedy that unfolded Friday, adding he and other officials would move to halt the logging operations.

At least 48 others perished mostly in the hard-hit provinces of Lanao del Norte, where floodwaters from a mountain also swept away several houses and villagers, and Lanao del Sur, police and officials said.

Tropical Storm Tembin, packing maximum sustained winds of 80 kilometers (50 miles) per hours and gusts of up to 95 kph (59 mph), is forecast to blow away from the southern Philippines on Sunday toward the South China Sea, moving closer to Vietnam.

About 20 typhoons and storms batter the Philippines each year, making the archipelago that lies on the Pacific typhoon belt one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world.

AP