Philippines counts cost after Typhoon Nesat departs
MANILA (Reuters) - The Philippines on Wednesday began tallying the damage bill from powerful 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 toward 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 canceled on Wednesday.
The Department of Agriculture said initial estimates put crop damage, mainly of rice, at about $16 million, while the disaster agency put infrastructure damage at around $1.7 million.
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 one-third of national rice output in the fourth quarter.
The National Food Authority said it had sufficient stocks to cover the losses, with 2.5 million 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," Deputy Governor Diwa Guinigundo told Reuters.
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," Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala said at a senate hearing when asked about rice output given the typhoon damage.
He said the initial damage was about 0.6 percent of estimated fourth-quarter rice output of 6.5 million 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 centers on Wednesday 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 U.S. embassy shut again on Wednesday.
Francis Tolentino, 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," Tolentino told Reuters, adding some areas remain flooded.
As Nesat, packing center winds of 130 kph (80 mph) with gustiness of up to 150 kph, departed, weather officials warned another 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," Department of Science and Technology Undersecretary Graciano Yumul said.
(Reporting by Manny Mogato; Editing by John Mair and Sugita Katyal)
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