World News

Philippines braces for new storm as toll hits 246

MANILA (Reuters) - Philippine authorities braced on Tuesday for another storm as the toll from rain and floods from a weekend typhoon, now bearing down on Vietnam, rose to 246 dead while damages climbed to nearly $100 million.

Weather forecasters said a new storm forming in the Pacific Ocean was likely to enter Philippine waters on Thursday and make landfall later in the week on the northern island of Luzon, just like Saturday’s Typhoon Ketsana.

Ketsana dumped more than a month’s worth of average rainfall on Manila and surrounding areas in one 24-hour period. About 80 percent of the city of 15 million was flooded.

The Philippine government has come in for scathing criticism for its response to the disaster, with many calling it inadequate and delayed.

Authorities estimated damage from the storm so far at around 4.69 billion pesos ($98.5 million). More than 1.9 million people were affected and 375,000 had abandoned their homes and taken refuge in evacuation centers.

More than 3,000 houses were either damaged or destroyed.

The death toll could rise further once reports come in from remote areas. The storm hit metropolitan Manila and 12 provinces. Dozens remained missing and feared dead, disaster officials said.

“For casualties, the increase will be not as great, but the damage figures may increase,” Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro told a news conference on Tuesday.

“Even opportunity loss of revenues for establishments, that alone would amount to hundreds of millions at least per day.”

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Ketsana was to make landfall in central Vietnam later on Tuesday, where authorities have ordered the evacuation of at least 170,000 people.

Hundreds of soldiers were helping evacuate people and with storm preparations. Ships have been told to take shelter in Danang. Vietnam Airlines has canceled all fights to the port city since Monday and schools in several coastal provinces were closed.

In the Philippines, authorities released water from two dams north of Manila, but stressed it was being done carefully to prevent any recurrence of floods.

“Angat opened their gates slowly just to keep it at spilling level and the effect would be minimal,” Teodoro said, adding the another dam in Nueva Ecija province also opened its gates to release water.

Communist rebels announced a unilateral ceasefire with government forces and ordered cadres to help in flood relief operations.

Private citizens and volunteer groups were collecting relief goods -- mostly clothes, drinking water and medicines -- and distributing them to victims. Many people have thrown open their homes to those who were forced to abandon theirs.

Several foreign governments and U.N. agencies have already pledged nearly $2 million in rice and relief supplies, Teodoro told reporters, adding he met lawmakers from both houses of Congress to seek emergency funds for rehabilitation work.

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U.S. soldiers deployed in the south of the country have been brought to Manila to help in relief, while the United Nations has announced it will give food aid and cash for medical supplies.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has called the typhoon “an extreme event that has strained our response capabilities to the limit.”

“But it is not breaking us,” she said in a statement on Monday, after opening the presidential palace for relief efforts.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime typhoon.”

Schools in the capital region and nearby provinces will remain closed for the third day on Wednesday because about 170 campuses are being used as shelter areas for more than 10,000 families. About 60 schools were also damaged by the floods.

Analysts say the floods have worsened the reputation of Arroyo, who has been accused of corruption and poll fraud, and that it could affect the prospects of Teodoro, the administration candidate, in the May 2010 presidential election.

Additional reporting by Rosemarie Francisco; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Jerry Norton