MANILA, Philippines (AP) _ The strongest storm to hit the Philippines this year roared through the central islands Tuesday, killing at least five people and sinking 17 ships.

Typhoon Mike's 125 mph wind also forced thousands of people to flee their homes in low-lying areas.

The Philippine coast guard reported that 25 crew members were missing after the ship Dona Roberta sank near Cagayan de Oro, about 500 miles south of Manila.

At least 17 people, including six Americans, were trapped on an oil rig off Palawan Island in the South China Sea. Three sailors also were missing after their navy craft sank in Cebu harbor.

On Panay Island, at least two people were killed, including a 10-year-old boy hit by a tree, officials said. Three other bodies were recovered from the surf off Misamis Oriental province on Mindanao, second largest of the 7,100 Philippine islands, officials said.

Casualty reports from Philippine storms often take days to reach Manila because of poor communications.

The storm landed first on Leyte Island early Tuesday and by late afternoon was centered over Cuyo Island, about 260 miles south of Manila.

The storm was expected to pass over Palawan and head into the South China Sea early Wednesday.

In Manila, Virgil Walston, president of Alcorn Production Philippines Inc., said 68 workers were evacuated from a rig off Palawan Island. But 17 others were stranded after a boat could not return for them because of poor visibility and rough seas.

Walston said the company was in radio contact with the rig and all 17 were safe. They also included four Britons, three Australians, one New Zealander, one Malaysian and two Filipinos.

He said that if the storm abated, the 17 probably would remain on the rig and resume working.

Maj. Antonio Babijes, chief of the Manila Rescue Coordinating Center, said Philippine authorities asked American authorities at the Subic Bay Naval Base for help in the evacuation of the oil rig workers.

Senior forecaster Daniel Dimagiba said the storm's maximum sustained winds had weakened to 103 mph and moved west-northwest at 19 miles after crossing Leyte, Cebu and Negros and hitting Panay.

In Cagayan de Oro, the coast guard said the Dona Roberta, a cargo ship, sank early Monday off Sulauan Point near the city and 25 crew members were missing.

Another ship, the Iligan Flores, was also missing off Mindanao but there was no word on the fate of its passengers or crew, the coast guard said.

Cmdr. Ruben Lista, a navy spokesman, said 16 vessels sank off the Cebu harbor and six other boats ran aground. Two others were damaged.

He said huge waves pushed a passenger ship into a navy patrol craft and another domestic ferry, sinking all three vessels. He said there were no reports whether the vessels had passengers aboard at the time.

Three navy utility craft also sank nearby and three sailors were reported missing from two of the vessels, he added.

Officials said three bridges were damaged in Misamis Oriental, curtailing land transport between the northern Mindanao cities of Cagayan de Oro and Butuan.

Philippine Airlines canceled 59 domestic flights to central and southern cities, but international flights were unaffected.

The typhoon is the 14th to hit the Philippines this year. About 20 typhoons a year hit the country. It was the strongest typhoon to enter the country's waters since last December, Dimagiba said.