Storm heads to China, Vietnam as Philippine death toll rises

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Workers clear a road with a fallen tree after Typhoon Bophal hit the city of Tagum, Davao del Norter province, on the southern island of Mindanao, Philippines. Photo: AFP

Storm Bopha headed toward southern China and Vietnam after killing at least 456 people in the Philippines, the deadliest cyclone to hit the Southeast Asian nation this year.

Bopha, known locally as Pablo, triggered landslides and damaged thousands of homes in coastal and mining towns in the southern island of Mindanao, the region that was battered a year ago by the deadliest cyclone since 2008. The number of missing people rose to 533, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Monitoring Council said in a 4 p.m. report today.

"If Bopha continues with its north-northwest path, it appears headed to southern China or Vietnam," state weather forecaster Samuel Duran said by phone today. The storm may gain strength as it crosses the South China Sea, he said.

The Philippine government has faced criticism of its response to tropical storms that form over the Pacific Ocean and lash the nation at the same time each year. In December 2011, Storm Washi killed more than 1,200 people, mostly in Mindanao. In September 2009, Storm Ketsana flooded Manila and parts of Luzon, killing more than 400 people, while monsoon rains flooded half of the Manila region in August.

"The government won't stop in seeking to improve your lives and prevent calamities," President Benigno Aquino said today in Compostela Valley in Mindanao, where he distributed relief goods. "This isn't the time to talk, this is the time to work."

State of calamity

Aquino will declare a state of calamity when he returns to Manila, allowing the government to fix prices of basic goods and local authorities to tap emergency funds, Communications Secretary Ricky Carandang said on his official Twitter page. The information was later confirmed by Aquino's spokeswoman Abigail Valte.

Only 73 of the people killed in the storm have been identified, the disaster agency said in its 5 a.m. report.

Aquino asked mayors and governors on Dec. 5 if there was something the government could have done to prevent casualties. His civil defense chief, Benito Ramos, said before Bopha hit that the nation was "very prepared," having warned residents in the storm's path five days in advance.

Bopha packed winds of 175 kilometers (109 miles) per hour and gusts of 210 kilometers per hour when it reached the Philippines on Dec. 4. Wind speeds slowed to 110 kilometers per hour and gusts weakened to 140 kilometers per hour as of 4 a.m. today, according to the state weather agency.

Evacuation centers

More than 213,000 people are in evacuation centers as 28,587 homes were damaged, the disaster agency said in its latest bulletin. The storm caused 4 billion pesos ($98 million) of damage, mostly to agriculture, it said. Several bridges and roads aren't passable, while some parts of Mindanao are still without electricity and water, it said.

Farm damage was initially estimated at 800 million pesos, with coconut and banana plantations the hardest hit, Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala said yesterday. Damage to rice and corn crops was minimal because they had just been planted, he said.

Fatalities from Washi in 2011 surpassed the combined death toll of 929 from the Ketsana and Parma storms in 2009, which caused more than 38 billion pesos of damage.

Apex Mining Co. may resume production at its gold and copper mining plant in Compostela Valley in four to five days using back-up power generators, it said in a statement to the stock exchange today.

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