Still reeling from last week's record floods that killed nearly 300, the Philippines began bracing for another bout of ferocious winds and torrential downpours from approaching "super typhoon" Parma. President Gloria Arroyo placed the country under a "state of calamity" yesterday and ordered tens of thousands of people to evacuate from coastal and low lying areas along the typhoon's path.
"The prediction is that this typhoon is very strong. Our prayers are that no lives will be lost," Bella Angara, the governor of the northern province of Aurora, which is predicted to feel Parma's full force this afternoon, told AFP. The head of the country's weather-forecasting agency, Nathaniel Cruz, said Parma's gusts were strong enough "to rip the roofs off houses". "The best thing we can do for the lives of our countrymen is to look for the strongest building where our countrymen can take refuge while the storm is passing," he said.
The worsening weather was also threatening to complicate efforts to provide relief to the estimated 400,000 people in the capital, Manila, who were still taking refuge in makeshift shelters and school gymnasiums six days after tropical storm Ketsana unleashed the heaviest rains in more than four decades. Roughly 80 per cent of the capital was submerged by the storm and much of the city remained under a flotsam of water, mud and debris.
A reported 293 residents were killed in the flooding, brought on by more than 40cm of rain in under six hours. Elisabeth Byrs, a spokeswoman for the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said yesterday that 1.8 million people in the country could be exposed to typhoon Parma. "We are extremely concerned," she said. "Eight and a half million people live in the line of the typhoon and 1.8 million people live in areas along the path of the strongest winds."
Residents of one town outside Manila still inundated by chest-high water were seen fleeing out of fear of resurgent floodwaters. "I ordered this morning the evacuation of people in flood-stricken areas - thousands have already transferred to public schools and my own rice milling compound," said Calixto Cataquiz, the mayor of San Pedro. Typically swamped by 20 typhoons a year, the intensity of recent weather patterns is blamed by some weather experts on global climate change.
Residents in coastal and low-lying areas in the northern Philippines' island of Luzon were ordered yesterday to evacuate. "We're praying very hard that the super typhoon will spare us," said housewife Nita Solita, 42, who was living in an evacuation facility after losing her home to floodwaters. "I don't know what's happening to our country." The impact from last week's deluge also appeared to be testing the state's ability to maintain order in some areas.
At the Pasig City Jail, a riverside facility in the capital, guards were reportedly patrolling its 859 inmates on stilts, while teams delivering aid reportedly had to paddle in on rafts to the reach the entrance. Still, the prison's superintendent, Hilbert Flor, told AFP that it was unlikely any would be able to escape the facility, whose inundated ground floor was also now home to schools of fish.
"The only way they are going to escape here is by going underwater," he said. President Arroyo's spokesman, Cerge Remonde, told a group of reporters that a state of calamity had been declared for the entire country; much of it, including Manila, had already received the designation soon after tropical storm Ketsana struck. A state of calamity allows the state to draw on emergency funds and introduce price controls.
"[But] it is much better if the whole country [is under a state of calamity] so that local governments are prepared," said Mr Remonde. Yet there were some signs of hope, as international donors began opening their coffers, amounting thus far to US$15 million (Dh55m) worth of humanitarian assistance, $4m from the United Nations. The European Union and other countries in the region, including Switzerland, contributed $5.3m to relief operations, while the United States provided $100,000 and 400,000 jerry cans and hygiene kits.