Typhoon Bopha slammed into the southern island of Mindanao on Tuesday, toppling trees and blowing away homes with 210km per hour gusts before easing overnight as it headed towards the South China Sea.
A total of 142 people died and 241 others were missing in the mountainous Mindanao town of New Bataan, Lieutenant-Colonel Lyndon Paniza told AFP on Wednesday.
Eighty-one other people were killed in the nearby province of Davao Oriental and 15 in other areas, Paniza and the civil defence office said.
Social welfare secretary Corazon Soliman and other officials described scenes of utter devastation with houses and other structures in some towns and villages ripped apart by the most powerful storm to hit the country this year.
"There are very few structures left standing in the town of Cateel," she told AFP, referring to one badly hit coastal town.
"We need to rush to these areas body bags, medicines, dry clothes and most importantly tents, because survivors are living out in the open after the typhoon blew away homes and rooftops."
The situation was just as dire in New Bataan town, which the military said saw flash floods and mudslides.
"The bodies are left lying on the ground in the open in New Bataan and we don't want to risk the spread of disease," Soliman said.
The New Bataan dead included a soldier taking part in rescue operations, interior secretary Mar Roxas said. Six other army men from the same unit were missing and three were injured.
"It is quite sad and tragic. They were actually there to be ready to help our countrymen who may be in trouble," Roxas said.
The military was scrambling helicopters and heavy equipment Wednesday to the mountain town, where rainwater had gushed down from nearby slopes, creating a deadly swirl of water, logs and rocks that crushed everything in its path.
Logs and boulders blocked the narrow mountain pass leading to the town, said Major General Ariel Bernardo, commander of an army division in the area.
Parts of Mindanao remained without power and telephone services, with food and clean water in limited supply.
Cateel and two other towns on Mindanao's east coast remained cut off due to a collapsed bridge and fallen trees and debris blocking roads, said Corazon Malanyaon, governor of Davao Oriental province where Bopha made landfall.
She said rescuers were using everything from heavy equipment to their bare hands and chainsaws to clear the roads.
"It's like we're running an obstacle course," Malanyaon said on local radio.
"About 95% of the town centre's structures including hospitals, private homes, private buildings had their roofs blown away," she said.
Bernardo said about 200 soldiers were dispatched to help them, while emphasising that the military was also "a victim of the storm" after an army patrol base and a rescue truck were washed away in New Bataan.
"In one of our headquarters, no bunkers were left standing and all our communication equipment has been destroyed," he said.
Bopha struck Mindanao early Tuesday, bringing driving rain and strong winds that forced 87 000 people to seek refuge in emergency shelters, according to an updated civil defence office tally.
It was the 16th storm this year to ravage the Philippines, which is hit with about 20 cyclones annually.
In December last year Mindanao was pummelled by tropical storm Washi, which killed more than 1 200 people and left hundreds of thousands homeless. – AFP