Philippines declares calamity as fresh storm approaches

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Philippine and U.S. military personnel load relief goods on board a U.S. C-130 plane for victims in Tacloban, at a military base in Manila on Nov. 11, 2013.

Philippine President Benigno Aquino declared a state of calamity to speed aid to communities ravaged by Super Typhoon Haiyan, which may have killed more than 10,000 people, as a fresh storm approached the area.

The government has 18.7 billion pesos ($429 million) to fund reconstruction after Haiyan unleashed storm surges and gale-force winds that caused vast destruction, Aquino said yesterday in a televised address.

The devastation may harm the economy, the government said, with the peso and stocks weakening yesterday. The storm affected almost 9.7 million people, according to authorities, and 22 countries have pledged assistance. Soldiers were dispatched to prevent looting as survivors scoured for food.

"In the coming days, be assured -- help will reach you faster and faster," Aquino said. "The delivery of food, water and medicines to the most heavily affected areas is at the head of our priorities."

Haiyan slammed into the central Philippines on Nov. 8, knocking down buildings and trees and flattening crops. In Tacloban city, the capital of Leyte province, television images showed bodies on the streets and floating in the sea, homes reduced to rubble, structures with their roofs ripped off and roads blocked by felled trees.

More than 1,700 people are confirmed dead and 82 missing, Major Rey Balido, spokesman of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, told reporters yesterday. About 1,600 people died in Eastern Visayas alone, where Leyte is, he said. In 2012, Storm Bopha killed 1,067 and left 834 missing.

"˜Catastrophic' losses

An estimated 660,000 people have been displaced by the typhoon, John Ging, an official with the United Nations humanitarian affairs office, told reporters in New York.

Losses will be $12 billion to $15 billion, or about 5 percent of economic output, according to an estimate by Charles Watson, director of research and development at Kinetic Analysis Corp., a disaster-modeling firm. "A $12 billion storm is not really that bad here in the U.S.," Watson said in an e-mail. "For the Philippine islands, it is catastrophic."

The peso yesterday weakened 0.9 percent to its lowest level against the U.S. dollar since the middle of September, and the nation's benchmark equity index dropped 1.4 percent by the close, its biggest fall since Sept. 30.

"The 18.7 billion pesos the president mentioned is probably just an initial amount because it's not going to be enough," said Jonathan Ravelas, chief market strategist at BDO Unibank Inc. (BDO), the nation's largest lender. "Given still low interest rates and huge amounts of liquidity in the domestic market, the government may consider selling bonds to fund the rebuilding."

New storm

Haiyan weakened to a tropical depression as it reached Vietnam Nov. 10. The storm killed at least seven people in the southern Chinese provinces of Hainan and Guangxi, according to the official Xinhua News Agency.

Tropical depression Zoraida was 192 kilometers (119 miles) east of Davao City in the southern Philippine island of Mindanao, with maximum sustained winds of 55 kilometers per hour, according to the Philippine weather bureau's 5 a.m. report.

Thirty areas, mostly in Mindanao and Visayas, remain under the lowest storm alert signal, with winds of up to 60 kilometers per hour expected over the next 36 hours, it said, and rainfall may be moderate to heavy.

Blankets, soap

The UN's Ging, who said the death toll may exceed previous estimates of 10,000, described "huge" devastation of airports and roads hindering the delivery of aid. Large airlifts will be needed to deliver supplies until roads "strewn with dead bodies" are cleared, he said.

Valerie Amos, the UN's chief coordinator of humanitarian affairs, has allocated a preliminary $25 million to help aid organizations and will join an appeal in Manila with the Philippine government for more money to finance rescue work, Ging said.

The UN refugee agency planned an emergency airlift tomorrow to deliver blankets, mosquito nets, soap and underwear, as well as a team to provide protection against the looting and mobbing of relief trucks reported in some areas.

The British Embassy in Manila announced an aid package of as much as $9.5 million, and President Barack Obama said in a statement that the U.S. is ready to help relief and recovery efforts.

U.S. troops

The Defense Department has dispatched about 215 U.S. troops to provide initial assessments of the support required, according to statements from the Marine Corps.

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel ordered aircraft carrier USS George Washington and other Navy ships to head to the Philippines, the Pentagon said in a statement. The carrier, which carries 5,000 sailors and more than 80 aircraft, is in Hong Kong for a port visit, with crew being recalled from shore leave and the ship likely to be on station within two to three days, the Pentagon said in the statement.

The state of calamity will "accelerate the efforts of the government to render aid and to rehabilitate the provinces ravaged by Yolanda," Aquino said, referring to Haiyan's local name. "This is important so we can ensure control over the prices of the basic commodities and services."

The government also approved an extra 1.1 billion pesos in "quick response fund" of the departments of social welfare and public works, the president said.

People looting

"People are looting because they are hungry," the country's police chief Alan Purisima told reporters yesterday in Manila. "The supplies we placed on standby were also washed away by the storm. Most of our police in storm-hit areas are either missing or affected."

Tacloban airport, where only the runway survived the storm, opened again for limited commercial operations, with the city accessible by land and sea from Luzon, Cabinet Secretary Jose Rene Almendras said at a briefing yesterday in Manila. Schools in the provinces of Bohol, Davao del Sur and Negros Occidental are shut, the Philippine Information Agency said.

Gross domestic product in areas hit by the typhoon may decline as much as 8 percent next year, Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima said in a mobile-phone message, citing preliminary estimates. The regions affected account for about 12.5 percent of the nation's output, he said.

World Bank

The World Bank is in talks with the Philippine government on how it can help, spokesman Frederick Jones said in an e-mailed statement.

From 50,000 tons to 120,000 tons of sugar may have been lost due to crop damage in the area, which accounts for more than half of the nation's sugar plantations, Sugar Regulatory Administration head Regina Martin told reporters in Manila. The agriculture department said 131,611 tons of rice were lost, accounting for 1.8 percent of the last quarter's production target.

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