Friday, October 02, 2009

Philippines: Police and military ordered to forcibly evacuate residents in the path of “super-typhoon” Parma

Philippine President Gloria Arroyo on 2 October ordered the police and military to forcibly evacuate residents on Luzon Island in the direct path of “super-typhoon” Parma.

Thousands of residents are expected to leave in the coming hours.

The announcement comes almost a week after tropical storm Ketsana unleashed severe flooding in Manila and surrounding areas, leaving nearly 300 dead and affecting more than three million people.

As the Philippines rolled out massive relief operations to distribute aid to nearly half a million people crammed in gymnasiums, basketball courts, schools and other makeshift shelters, state weather authorities have now issued an alert for Parma.

The storm has gathered strength and is approaching the Philippines from the east, packing maximum sustained winds of about 195km an hour near the centre and gusts of up to 230km - equivalent to a category-four hurricane, which could cause widespread damage and death.

Parma is forecast to slam into the northern province of Aurora on 3 October.

While it will not bring as much rain as Ketsana, its winds will be destructive and could potentially blow away houses, uproot trees and cause storm surges on the jagged and densely populated eastern coast, the state weather bureau said.

The agricultural province is divided into eight townships with a total population of about 160,000.

Parma’s arrival will likely compound the humanitarian situation in Manila and suburban areas to the east, some of which remain submerged in brown, fetid water days after Ketsana.

According to the country’s National Disaster Response Committee, more than 10,000 homes were damaged by the storm, of which 4,270 were completely destroyed.

Parma has already caused heavy rains in the east of the country, particularly in the island province of Catanduanes, where small boats have already been ordered grounded.

Storm warning

"While this may not have as much rain as Ketsana, the public should be warned that this is a very, very severe typhoon," state weather bureau spokesman Nathaniel Cruz told IRIN.

"These gusts are strong enough to destroy houses, to rip the roofs off houses," he said. "The best thing we can do for the lives of our countrymen is to look for the strongest building where [they] can take refuge while the storm is passing. They should stick to their radios and television sets for continuous updates."

Arroyo meanwhile ordered the police and the military to carry out "pre-emptive evacuations" in a bid to limit casualties.

She also imposed price controls on construction materials, the mass distribution of drinking water, the release of over one million packets of instant noodles and for the state weather bureau to periodically report any sudden rise in water levels in dams and reservoirs near Manila.

"Six days after Ketsana whipped the country, we are continuing to rush widespread distribution of aid to those still in need," she said, and warned that traders taking advantage of the crisis to hike prices of basic commodities would be jailed.

Relief operations

Piles of rotting rubbish and debris - including animal carcasses - have remained uncollected, potentially causing disease outbreaks. Human remains are also still being fished out of tributaries, raising the possibility of a higher toll.

"We are supporting the Philippines Government relief response to ensure that food and other vital supplies reach the growing numbers of people, many of whom have lost almost everything in this disaster," said Josette Sheeran, Executive Director of the UN World Food Programme (WFP).

She said the agency was "rapidly expanding" its relief operations in the country with the aim of providing food to one million people this month, "which is expected to be the peak period" for its emergency response.

As part of the preparations, the Philippine Navy reports that disaster relief response teams, equipped with rubber boats, portable generators, M35 trucks and life-saving kits, have been sent to the provinces of Cagayan, La Union, Pangasinan and Zambales in northern Luzon.

Each team comprises 15 enlisted personnel, while naval reservists in Cagayan, Ilocos Norte, Pangasinan and Nueva Ecija have been placed on full alert, it said.

“This is a full-force typhoon which could reach category five level,” Angela Travis, a spokeswoman for the UN in Manila, told IRIN. “They [the Philippines] are hit by 20-plus typhoons a year and they are gearing up,” she said.

Disclaimer:This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.
Photo: Copyright IRIN

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