Thousands evacuated before Philippine ‘super’ typhoon

MANILA (Reuters) – Philippine authorities declared a state of calamity and evacuated 33,000 people from the east of the main island as a “super typhoon” bore down yesterday, a week after flash floods in and around Manila killed nearly 300 people.

Typhoon Parma, about 150 km (93 miles) east of Luzon island, was gaining strength as it churned west-northwest toward the coast, bringing heavy rain.

It was expected to make landfall in or near the northeastern province of Isabela on Saturday. The area is mountainous and not heavily populated, but Parma was likely to lash Luzon with rain over the next two days, making life worse in flood-hit regions.

“We’re concerned about the effects of more rain on the relief work in flooded areas because the water level could rise again,” Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro said in a briefing aired on national television.

The weather bureau said Parma, with gusts of up to 230 kph (143 mph) at the center, would be the strongest typhoon to hit the country since 2006.

The top US commander of the Pacific region, Navy Admiral Timothy Keating, said two ships off the coast of Manila stood ready “with hundreds of Marines and medical assistance if more help is required.” “The weather forecast is pretty grim for the north part of Luzon,” he told reporters in a Pentagon teleconference. “We think the threat to downtown Manila is lower than it is to the north part of Luzon.”

At least 70,000 people fled their homes in the central Bicol region after Parma passed north of the area on Friday, bringing heavy rain. Officials said they had received some reports of landslides, but there were no immediate reports of casualties.

The Asia-Pacific region has been hit by a series of natural disasters in recent days, including Typhoon Ketsana that killed more than 400 in the Philippines, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam.

Tens of thousands were also displaced in southern Laos and flash floods were reported in northern Thailand.

Two powerful earthquakes rocked the Indonesian island of Sumatra, with the death toll likely to be in the thousands, and a tsunami battered American and Western Samoa, killing nearly 150.

In Taiwan, authorities identified 12 villages for mandatory evacuation ahead of Parma and another storm in the Pacific, Typhoon Melor.

The Taiwan government came in for heavy criticism after a deadly typhoon in August killed as many as 770 people.

In the Philippines, harsh criticism of the slow response to last week’s floods could affect Teodoro’s chances in next May’s presidential election, where he seeks to replace President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

Teodoro, also the head of the National Disaster Coordinating Council, has placed the military and police on alert and ordered civilian agencies to stockpile food, water, medicine, fuel and other relief supplies.

Arroyo declared a state of calamity, which will allow local governments access to emergency funds for relief work.

“It’s still very much possible that we will raise signal number 4 as it closes in on northern Luzon,” Prisco Nilo, head of the weather bureau, told reporters.

At signal number 4, residential and commercial buildings may be severely damaged, large trees uprooted and power and communication lines may be cut.

Last week’s storm, Ketsana, left hundreds of thousands homeless in and around Manila and areas around a lake near the capital remain submerged under 2-3 metre (yard) floodwaters. It also damaged or destroyed more than $108 million in crops, infrastructure and property.

The Philippines is hit by frequent typhoons in the summer that often continue on their track to hit Vietnam, China and Taiwan before weakening over land.

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