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Typhoon will miss Manila

October 18, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
Philippine disaster response agencies packed tons of food aid, readied helicopters and prepared a massive evacuation plan in the mountainous north Sunday as another typhoon threatened the country after back-to-back storms killed more than 800 people. Typhoon Lupit, roaring over the Pacific Ocean with sustained winds of 108 mph (175 kph) and gusts of 130 mph (210 kph), will likely spare the capital, Manila, but could slam into other parts of the north in about three days, chief weather forecaster Prisco Nilo said.

Lupit - a Filipino word for cruel - is the 18th tropical storm to threaten the country this year. About 20 typhoons or storms lash the Philippines annually.

The Philippines is still grappling with the deadly aftermath of Tropical Storm Ketsana, which struck Sept. 16 and triggered the worst flooding in Manila in over 40 years. It was followed by Typhoon Parma on Oct. 3, which lingered for a week, drenching northern mountain provinces and causing landslides that buried many homes.

The two storms killed 818 people and inundated the homes of more than 7 million. Hundreds were still in emergency shelters in landslide-hit Benguet province, 130 miles (210 kilometers) north of Manila, when news of the new typhoon spread.

About 85 tons of rice, canned sardines, noodles, blankets and mosquito nets were being packed and will be delivered to the north, including in Benguet, a gold-mining and vegetable-producing mountain region of more than 300,000 people where recent landslides blocked transport, the National Disaster Coordination Council said.

Philippine military and U.N. helicopters were on standby for emergency airlifts, officials said.

During an emergency meeting Sunday, town mayors were authorized to evacuate people from landslide- and flood-prone villages based on their risk assessment. Other relatively safer areas should put in place warning systems and move people out if dangerous heavy rains continuously fall, disaster response officer Olive Luces told The Associated Press by telephone.

Governor Nestor Fongwan of Benguet, where at least 288 people were killed in Parma-triggered landslides, said about 500 families still in emergency shelters from the last storm were urged not to return home because of the approaching typhoon.

Police have been ordered to go house-to-house and encourage villagers to leave disaster-prone communities days ahead of the typhoon to avoid panic, he said.

"During the last storm, there was a villager who used a megaphone to warn his neighbors to flee to safety," Fongwan told the AP. "But it was already dark and his own two children and wife perished in the disaster."

Welfare Secretary Esperanza Cabral said forecasters were briefing the government every six hours about the typhoon's movement, and wider evacuations will be ordered once it's clear that any region will be hit.

Lupit, which was almost stationary at 715 miles (1,150 kilometers) off the northern Philippine coast as of 5 p.m. local time (1100 GMT, 7 a.m. EDT), could clip the northern Philippines on Wednesday or veer toward Taiwan. Metropolitan Manila, which enjoyed mostly sunny weather Sunday, will likely be spared, Nilo said.

Despite such assurance, many Manila residents were jittery.

"We're scared. We've not even recovered from the last flooding and here comes another typhoon," said Gerardo Martin, who was pushing a cartload of paying commuters across the still-flooded streets of suburban Pasig City.

Health officials say 1.7 million people exposed to floodwaters in and around metropolitan Manila from the last storms were being threatened by leptospirosis, a disease spread by water contaminated with urine of infected animals. The disease has killed 96 of 1,336 people who have been brought to hospitals for treatment, officials said.

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