Rising Philippine Storm Death Toll Taunts Disaster Response

Storm Death Toll Rising in Philippines Taunts Disaster Response
Residents walk amongst their destroyed houses after storm Bopha hit Compostela town, Mindanao, the Philippines. Photographer: Karlos Manlupig/AFP/Getty Images

Storm Bopha killed at least 327 people and left 380 missing in the Philippines in the most devastating cyclone to hit the nation this year even after the government said it was better prepared for disasters.

Bopha, known locally as Pablo, left a trail of death and destruction in some coastal and mining towns in Mindanao, the region that was also battered a year ago by the most deadly cyclone since 2008. The death toll has climbed to 475, Agence France-Presse reported, citing the military. As the storm heads to Oriental Mindoro, its wind speed slowed to 115 kilometers (71 miles) per hour and gusts weakened to 145 kilometers per hour as of 1 p.m. today, according to the state disaster agency.

“The government’s disaster response has improved dramatically, but preparations for calamities require a lot more effort,” Segundo Romero, a program director at the Ateneo de Manila University’s School of Government, said by telephone today. “While resettlement may be a longer-term solution, you can only relocate people if they understand and accept the risks. It requires an effective communication campaign.”

The Southeast Asian nation is regularly hit by cyclones that form over the Pacific Ocean, causing devastation that often prompts criticism of the government’s disaster-response efforts. Storm Washi killed more than 1,200 people, mostly in Mindanao, in December 2011. In September 2009, Storm Ketsana flooded Manila and parts of Luzon, killing more than 400 people. Monsoon rains flooded half of the Manila region in August.

The storm may hit Vietnam or Cambodia after exiting the Philippines early tomorrow, Aldczar Aurelio, a state weather forecaster, said by phone.

‘We Did Everything’

Coastal towns of Cateel, Baganga and Boston in Davao Oriental with a combined population of about 150,000 are isolated, without electricity and mobile-phone coverage after bridges were destroyed by the typhoon, Interior Secretary Mar Roxas told local radio DZMM. Bodies caked in mud line the road, Roxas said, appealing for assistance with coffins and body bags.

“We won’t stop building systems and mechanisms so that we can minimize the number of victims of tragedies” as soon as possible, President Benigno Aquino said today. “Our target is not to lose one life,” he said. “I want to be able to tell any Filipino that we did everything we could to save our countrymen.”

‘Very Prepared’

Aquino, who’s scheduled to visit some of the affected areas, asked mayors and governors yesterday if there was something the government could have done to prevent casualties. His civil defense head Benito Ramos said on Dec. 2, before Bopha hit, that the nation is “very prepared,” having warned residents on the storm’s path five days before it was due to enter the Philippines.

Bopha packed winds of 175 kilometers per hour and gusts of 210 kilometers per hour when it landed in the morning of Dec. 4.

More than 250,000 people are in evacuation centers as 4,700 homes were damaged, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council said in its latest bulletin. Some parts of Mindanao are without electricity, the report said. About 180.5 million pesos ($4.4 million) of infrastructure, agriculture and property was destroyed, the agency said.

Crop damage was estimated at 250 million pesos to 300 million pesos, with banana plantations the hardest hit, Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala told ABS-CBN News. Damage to rice and corn farmlands was minimal because the planting season had just started, he said.

Crop Damage

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. Typhoon Fengshen killed about 1,300 people in June 2008 and caused about 7 billion pesos of damage to crops and irrigation. The death toll from Fengshen included more than 900 people aboard a ship that capsized.

Total damage caused by typhoons and other natural disasters 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 a five-month low in November.

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