SAN FERNANDO, Philippines (AP) -- Divers having difficulty removing bodies from a capsized ferry were forced to use heavy weights to help pull the dead out of the upside-down vessel, Philippine officials said Thursday.
The bodies had floated to the top of the submerged cabins and compartments on the seven-story ferry, Coast Guard Commodore Luis Tuason said. Divers were struggling to pull the bloated bodies through narrow, debris-filled corridors to exit the vessel.
It remains unclear how many of the 850-plus passengers and crew were trapped when the 23,824-ton Princess of the Stars suddenly listed and went belly up in a half-hour or less during a powerful typhoon Saturday, leaving just the tip of the bow jutting from the water.
Only 56 survivors have been found, while 124 bodies have been recovered after washing ashore or spotted floating in the sea, some in life jackets, Coast Guard Commander Danilo Avila said.
The ferry disaster could raise Typhoon Fengshen's death toll to more than 1,500, with 394 people confirmed dead from flooding and landslides and more than 330 missing.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said Thursday $7.9 million is needed to provide around 400,000 storm victims with clean water, emergency shelters and other relief items over the next 3 months.
The Red Cross said 435 people are still missing, and more than 106,000 homes are destroyed or badly damaged.
The aftermath of the storm kept rescue workers away until calm conditions Tuesday allowed divers to slither inside the ferry for the first time.
More than 100 divers, including eight U.S. military frogmen, were at the site, some working through the night Wednesday in the hope that some passengers could have found an air pocket and survived.
Tuason said Coast Guard rescuers were instructed Thursday to take photos of the decomposing bodies to help in the identification process. He initially indicated the bodies were being photographed inside the ferry, but later said the process was to be conducted after the bodies were laboriously secured.
The Coast Guard later rescinded the order on instructions from higher-level officials, apparently due to sensitivities over the issue.
Relatives have questioned why the ship was allowed to leave Manila late Friday for a 20-hour trip to Cebu with a typhoon approaching. President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has ordered a thorough probe and said she hoped to find ways to avoid similar accidents in the future.
Sulpicio Lines said the ferry sailed with Coast Guard approval. Debate also began anew on safe-sailing rules in a country prone to storms - Fengshen was the seventh typhoon this year - and dependent on ferries to get around the sprawling archipelago.