October 19, 2010 / 2:44 AM / 9 years ago

Philippines counts cost as China prepares for typhoon

ILAGAN, Philippines (Reuters) - A powerful typhoon cleared the Philippines’ main island but then stalled as it churned toward China, and authorities said there was no need for Manila to import more rice this year to cover damaged crops.

A resident takes a picture of a damaged rooftop at a gasoline station after Typhoon Megi hit Isabela province, north of Manila October 19, 2010. Typhoon Megi cleared the Philippines' main island and headed towards China on Tuesday, and authorities said initial estimates showed the super storm had damaged around one percent of the country's unmilled rice crop. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco

Typhoon Megi, which officials have so far said killed 10 people in the Philippines, was expected to hit China’s southern Guangdong province on Friday or Saturday, state news agency Xinhua said.

Floods were reported in Vietnam and Thailand’s northeast, where thousands of people have been left homeless and four people have died so far.

In the Philippines, disaster agency officials were trying to reach eastern coastal towns and villages, saying most houses appear to have been destroyed. Megi — the strongest storm this year — hit land as a category 5 super typhoon with winds in excess of 250 kph (155 mph) on Monday.

The head of the National Food Authority, which manages the Philippines’ grain stocks, said while unmilled rice crops had been damaged in the Cagayan valley, the country’s second-biggest growing area, there was no need for extra imports this year.

“We have more than enough for the year. The extent of damage to palay (unmilled rice) harvest in northern Luzon is still being assessed, but initial partial reports show that shortfalls are manageable,” Angelito Banayo said in text message to Reuters.

Initial estimates of typhoon damage to unmilled rice in the Cagayan valley, which was directly in the path of Megi, varied, with three estimates from agriculture department officials putting the losses at between 52,000 and 105,000 meric tons.

They were well below a worst-case scenario of more than 230,000 metric tons, although the Governor of Isabela province, which includes part of the valley, put the losses at 385,000 metric tons.

Bureau of Agricultural Statistics figures showed the Cagayan valley produced 2.1 million metric tons, or 13 percent, of the national rice output of 16 million metric tons in 2009.

LOW TOLL

The national disaster agency put the death toll so far at 10, a low tally for such a strong typhoon in the country of some 94 million. More than 3 million people live in Cagayan Valley, where the storm first hit and the government had spearheaded an evacuation drive from there and other coastal areas.

Hundreds of thousands were affected in three northern regions when heavy rain and strong winds destroyed or damaged houses, uprooted trees, flattened rice fields and triggered landslides, isolating four coastal towns in Isabela province.

Disaster agency officials in the Cordillera mountain region said more than 180,000 people in five provinces and the resort city Baguio were affected by the typhoon, but less than 3,000 are in temporary shelter areas.

Nearly all of Baguio was without power due to fallen trees and power lines, and low-lying areas were underwater, forcing hundreds to seek temporary shelter.

Another 100,000 were affected in Isabela province, local officials told television and radio interviews as much as 70-80 percent of houses in rice-producing Ilagan and Tumauini towns were destroyed or damaged.

On Tuesday, residents, using machetes and chainsaws, were clearing roads blocked by fallen trees, electric posts and power lines and debris from destroyed houses. Soldiers with heavy equipment removed boulders and loosened soil covering roads.

More thorough damage assessments were expected as local air carriers resumed normal operations, but many areas still remained without telephones and electricity.

“We’ll try to reach coastal towns facing the Pacific, because there were reports 90 percent of the houses there were wiped out,” Ramos told reporters.

In July, a typhoon killed 102 people after it unexpectedly changed direction and sliced through Manila, cutting power across the city of 12 million people. That prompted President Benigno Aquino to sack the chief weather forecaster.

After clearing the Philippines, Megi was almost stationary for 12 hours before moving west northwest at a slow 7 kph (4 mph), state weather forecasters said. It was expected to regain strength over the South China Sea as it moves toward China.

Slideshow (7 Images)

Tropical Storm Risk’s (http:/www.tropicalstormrisk.com) projections show the storm is expected to head toward Hong Kong, with Hainan island within the forecast margin of error.

Some 140,000 people have been evacuated from 15 cities on Hainan island since heavy rains reached the province on Friday, the official Xinhua News Agency reported on Monday.

A crew member of a Panama-registered cargo ship drowned when huge waves and high winds spawned by Megi sank the vessel 12 nautical miles off Taiwan’s coast. Seventeen people were rescued while another four were being brought to safety as of 0730 GMT.

Reporting by Manny Mogato and Eric dela Cruz in Manila, Alan Raybould in Bangkok, Ralph Jennings in Taipei, Ben Blanchard in Beijing; Editing by John Mair and Alex Richardson

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