x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Philippines prepares for new storm

Filipino weather forecasters stage protest over unpaid wages as storm called Kai-Tak was forecast to hit the east coast of Luzon, the country's main island, today.

MANILA // Amid a passing storm and recent massive flooding, hundreds of workers at the Philippines' weather agency staged a protest yesterday over suspended cash benefits and warned that forecasting services could deteriorate if the problem persists.

Forecasters and other employees of the Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration wore black arm bands and hoisted streamers urging the government to resume payment of hazard and other allowances, which were suspended in March.

While the workers did not plan any work stoppage, the protest leader Ramon Agustin said some struggling employees have failed to report for work because of a lack of money.

"The only reason why we remain strong in performing our tasks is our pure love for the country, but this would eventually weaken," Mr Agustin said in a news conference at the weather agency, which buzzed with activity as forecasters tracked Tropical Storm Kai-Tak off the country's north-east.

The archipelago serves like a welcome mat for about 20 Pacific storms and typhoons that blow toward Asia every year, often leaving a trail of death and destruction.

Yesterday Philippine authorities rushed relief supplies to the country's remote north in preparation for the storm, which was also expected to dump heavy rain on other areas struggling with deadly floods.

Kai-Tak was forecast to hit the east coast of Luzon, the country's main island, today then pass over mountainous regions before heading towards Taiwan, the state weather bureau said.

"We are rushing to preposition relief items to the northern areas ahead of this storm," Corazon Soliman, the social welfare secretary, said.

"We wanted to make sure that we have enough supplies there just in case areas get cut off by landslides or floods."

Kai-Tak was also forecast to bring heavy rains across the central and southern areas of Luzon, where 334,000 people remain in evacuation centres following flooding last week that in some farming areas remains waist-deep.

The floods, which submerged 80 per cent of Manila, killed 95 people, according to the government.

Mr Ramos said authorities yesterday had begun releasing water from five dams in the mountain regions of Luzon that were near overflowing in anticipation of more rains.

But the "controlled release" was not expected to swamp already swollen river systems and cause more flooding, he said.

* With additional reporting by Agence France-Presse