Storm-battered northern Philippines readies food, evacuations as typhoon nears

By Hrvoje Hranjski, AP
Monday, October 19, 2009

Philippines readies food, evacuations for typhoon

MANILA, Philippines — Philippine authorities applied the lessons from recent deadly storms Monday by stocking up on food and clothes early while moving residents out of harm’s way as a powerful typhoon threatened the country’s rain-soaked northeast.

Typhoon Lupit, packing winds of 108 miles (175 kilometers) per hour and gusts of up to 130 mph (210 kph), was not expected to make landfall before Thursday, giving officials time to organize food supplies and issue landslide and flood warnings.

The government was moving fast to prevent any loss of life after back-to-back storms on Sept. 26 and Oct. 3 killed more than 850 people, most of them buried in dozens of mudslides along the northern Cordillera mountains.

“These days we no longer have a problem convincing residents to evacuate,” said Loreto Espineli, police chief in Benguet province where 300 people died.

Hundreds of families living in danger zones — low-lying areas, near cliffs and mountain slopes — were still in evacuation centers or staying with relatives since Typhoon Parma damaged their homes early this month. They will ride out the latest typhoon in shelters, Espineli said.

“In most houses, one male is left behind just to look after their belongings, and when the typhoon is already near, we will go house-to-house to evacuate everyone,” he said.

Village heads were using megaphones to warn about the impending typhoon, and sirens will be sounded once it makes landfall, Espineli told The Associated Press.

“We will force them to leave if they don’t want to,” he said. “It is easier to evacuate people than to dig for bodies after a mudslide.”

Four air force and two U.N. helicopters flew in relief goods — rice, canned food and clothing — to municipalities where recent landslides damaged roads, said Olive Luces, head of the Office of Civil Defense in Baguio city, 130 miles (210 kilometers) north of Manila.

Lupit — a Filipino word for cruel — was almost stationary 825 miles (1,330 kilometers) southeast of Cagayan province. There was an 80 percent probability it will make landfall in the extreme north of the main island of Luzon on Thursday, said the head of the Philippine weather agency, Frisco Nilo.

The sprawling capital, Manila, which was submerged in the worst flooding in 40 years after Tropical Storm Ketsana unleashed heavy rains Sept. 26, will likely be spared, Nilo said.

The two back-to-back storms killed 858 people and inundated the homes of more than 7 million.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has blamed extreme weather caused by climate change but her critics say the calamity was magnified by poor city planning and millions of squatters living along riverbanks and blocking waterways with their shanties. The urban poor, sources of cheap labor and votes during elections, make up for almost half of Manila’s 12 million people.

Senators and provincial officials, many of whom are running in next year’s national elections, also accused the operators of several dams of releasing massive volumes of excess water without sufficient warning, inundating cities and rice paddies and washing away roads.

This time, the dams began discharging waters gradually to empty their reservoirs.

Associated Press writer Teresa Cerojano contributed to this report.

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