x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

As Typhoon Nesat departs, Philippines counts the cost

Storm kills at least 21 with dozens still missing and leaves behind flooded towns, overflowing dams and $16m of damage to crops.

Residents rummage through what is left of their shanties damaged by Typhoon Nesat in Manila yesterday. Bullit Marquez / AP Photo
Residents rummage through what is left of their shanties damaged by Typhoon Nesat in Manila yesterday. Bullit Marquez / AP Photo

MANILA // The Philippines yesterday began tallying the damage bill from Typhoon Nesat, which killed at least 21 people and left behind flooded towns, overflowing dams and damage to rice crops across northern Luzon island.

As the typhoon moved over the South China Sea towards northern Vietnam and southern China, Manila said efforts to find dozens of people still missing were being hindered by bad weather.

Financial markets, government offices and some schools reopened after being closed by the typhoon, and train services resumed after power supplies were restored in the capital. However, some flights were again cancelled yesterday.

The department of agriculture said initial estimates put crop damage, mainly of rice, at about US$16 million (Dh58.7m), while the disaster agency put infrastructure damage at about $1.7m.

Crop damage included 33,890 tonnes of rice from 56,421 hectares affected in five regions, including the key rice-growing Cagayan Valley and Central Luzon regions.

The Cagayan Valley and Central Luzon together were expected to account for just under a third of national rice output in the fourth quarter.

The National Food Authority said it had sufficient stocks to cover the losses, with 2.5m tonnes of rice, equal to 75 days of demand, in its warehouses.

The central bank said crop damage and supply problems caused by the typhoon could increase prices temporarily. "In case of inflationary impact, this would at worst be one off," the deputy governor, Diwa Guinigundo, said.

The government had cut rice imports this year to about 860,000 tonnes from a record 2.45 million tonnes in 2010, and plans to make the country self-sufficient in its national staple in coming years.

Major damage to crops could have forced Manila to buy from international markets at a time when rice prices are rising.

"We are still on the right track," the agriculture secretary, Proceso Alcala, said at a senate hearing when asked about rice output in light of the typhoon damage.

He said the initial damage was about 0.6 per cent of estimated fourth-quarter rice output of 6.5m tonnes.

Across Luzon, the Philippines' main island, flooding, storm surges and strong winds caused great amounts of damage. Some provincial towns were still flooded and without power on Wednesday.

There were still nearly 48,000 people in evacuation centres yesterday morning, the disaster agency said, adding authorities were inspecting roads closed by debris and cut by landslides in the northern mountain region.

The sea wall at Manila Bay was badly damaged by storm surges, which swamped Roxas Boulevard and other waterfront areas, keeping the US embassy shut again yesterday.

Francis Tolentino, the head of the Metro Manila Development Authority, said it would take more than a week to clean up, with the priority on restoring power supply and communication lines.

"There's so much work to be done to rebuild dykes and the sea wall, as well as fix the houses destroyed in coastal areas," Mr Tolentino said, adding that some areas remained flooded.

As Nesat, packing winds of 130kph and gusts of 150kph, departed, weather officials warned another storm was developing in the Pacific Ocean that could pick up strength and become a typhoon as it approaches north Luzon.

"Our initial track line shows it may hit northern Luzon. But it may be too early to tell because it might still change course," said Graciano Yumul, the undersecretary at the department of science and technology.