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Philippines Faces Fiercest Storm a Year After Deadly Cyclone

The Philippines is bracing for the strongest storm in 2012 almost a year after typhoon Washi triggered landslides, flooding and the highest cyclone death toll since 2008.

Storm Bopha is forecast to dump 20 millimeters (0.8 inches) to 30 millimeters per hour of rain within its 600-kilometer diameter, compared with 50 millimeters by typhoon Ketsana in 2009, Nathaniel Servando, weather bureau administrator said in a phone interview yesterday. Civil Defense Chief Benito Ramos said the nation is “very prepared,” having warned residents on the storm path five days before the cyclone was due to enter Philippine territory.

Soldiers and police are in position to transfer residents in flood and landslide-prone areas to evacuation centers when necessary, Ramos said by phone. The Philippine navy placed at least 40 ships on standby, spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Omar Tonsay said. The social welfare department has relief supplies ready, Ramos said.

The Philippines is regularly battered by cyclones that form over the Pacific Ocean, often causing devastation that prompts criticism of the government’s preparation and handling. Washi killed more than 1,200 people, mostly in the southern region of Mindanao in December 2011. In September 2009, Ketsana flooded Manila and parts of Luzon, killing more than 400 people. Monsoon rains flooded half of the Manila region in August.

Potential Floods, Landslides

Bopha “is the strongest typhoon this year, with the potential to trigger floods and landslides,” Servando said, using wind speed as gauge. Bopha will likely track a path close to the one taken by Washi, he said.

The cyclone is seen to pack maximum sustained winds of 175 kilometers per hour and gusts of up to 210 kilometers per hour, the weather bureau said on its website at 5 a.m. today. The wind speed and gusts are slower from yesterday’s forecasts of 185 kilometers per hour and 220 kilometers per hour respectively. It entered Philippine waters at 6 p.m. yesterday, when it was spotted at 900 kilometers southeast of Hinatuan town, Mindanao, and will hit land at 8 a.m. tomorrow in Surigao. It will cross Northern Mindanao and Central Visayas, according to the weather bulletin.

“The storm can weaken further, but only slightly,” Servando said by phone today. “It’s still a strong storm.”

Death Toll

Fatalities from Washi surpassed the combined death toll of 929 from Ketsana and Parma storms in 2009, which damaged more than 38 billion pesos ($931 million) of homes, infrastructure and farm output. Typhoon Fengshen killed about 1,300 people in June 2008 and damaged about 7 billion pesos of crops and irrigation. The death toll from Fengshen included more than 900 people aboard a ship that capsized.

The damage due to typhoons and other calamities in 2011 reached 59.2 billion pesos, Economic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan said in August. That month, inflation accelerated to 3.8 percent, the fastest pace in seven months, on supply disruptions that followed flooding caused by torrential rains. Consumer price gains slowed to 3.1 percent in October.

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