Saturday, October 03, 2009

Typhoon weakens slightly as Philippines braces

By ROHAN SULLIVAN, Associated Press Writer

MANILA, Philippines – Filipinos braced Saturday for their second typhoon in eight days, though the storm weakened just hours before it was due to hit and the threat of another disaster in the flood-soaked capital eased.

Better news for the Philippines was bad news for Taiwan, which issued a storm warning and began evacuating villages in the south as Typhoon Parma headed more sharply north toward the island.

Parma was dropping heavy rain across the Philippines' main island of Luzon on Saturday including many areas still recovering from a Sept. 26 storm that inundated large parts of Manila and killed almost 300 people.

But the storm was pushed farther north overnight Friday, and Manila was no longer at risk of a new deluge, said chief government forecaster Nathaniel Cruz. The storm's sustained winds also eased slightly, to 108 mph (175 kph), down from 121 mph (195 kph) on Friday.

"It is good news, especially for those whose houses are still under water," Cruz said at a briefing Saturday morning. "But 175 (kph winds) can still uproot trees and destroy houses and blown down roofs."

Parma was due to strike the Philippines' northeastern tip on Saturday night, instead of hitting north-central Luzon on Saturday afternoon, as earlier forecast.

The danger was easing in provinces south of the capital. In Albay province, governor Joey Salceda said he had ordered more than 76,000 people who had been evacuated from their homes in the past few days to be sent home.

Tens of thousands of others were still huddled in relief shelters or with friends after President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo ordered people in flood- and landslide-prone areas in six provinces to be evacuated.

A nationwide "state of calamity" ordered by Arroyo was still in place, designed to let authorities respond quickly if another disaster occurs.

Typhoon Ketsana on Sept. 26 caused the worst flooding in 40 years across the northern Philippines, damaging the homes of more than 2 million people. The Philippines National Disaster Coordinating Council on Saturday lowered the death toll from the Ketsana storm by five to 288.

Ketsana went on to hit other Southeast Asian countries, killing 99 in Vietnam, 14 in Cambodia and 16 in Laos.

It was part of more than a week of destruction in the Asia-Pacific region that has claimed more than 1,500 lives so far: an earthquake Wednesday in Indonesia; a tsunami Tuesday in the Samoan islands; and Typhoon Ketsana across Southeast Asia.

Many places in Manila are still chest-deep in water, or covered in thick mud and garbage.

In Quezon City, residents turned from cleaning up after Ketsana to trying to secure their belongings from the risk of more flooding.

"We do not know what to do or where we can go," said resident Bebang De Los Santos. "We don't have a way out and this is the only place that is safe, but we don't have any shelter."

Taiwan's Central Weather Bureau issued a storm warning for Parma on Saturday. This prompted officials to start evacuating villages in the southern county of Kaohsiung, where a typhoon in August triggered flash flooding that killed about 700, said local official Lin Chun-chieh.

One danger in Manila was posed by Lake Laguna, which rose more than 3.3 feet (one meter) as Ketsana passed and was in danger of spilling over into districts housing some 100,000 people if there is much more rain, said Ed Manda, general manager of the Laguna Lake Development Authority.

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Associated Press writers Oliver Teves in Manila and Debby Wu in Taipei, Taiwan, contributed to this report.

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