A much-weakened storm was set to make landfall in the Philippines’ northwest yesterday, five days after the year’s strongest typhoon killed 540 people and caused crop damage worth about 8 billion pesos (US$195.38 million) in the south.
The Philippines weather bureau issued storm alerts for northern provinces on the main island of Luzon as Bopha, with greatly reduced winds at its center of 55kph, changed course back toward land after heading into the South China Sea.
Typhoon Bopha first hit land on Tuesday with winds stronger than Hurricane Sandy that devastated the US East Coast in October.
Residents in typhoon-hit areas on southern Mindanao island have been appealing for food, water and other relief supplies.
On Saturday, Philippine President Benigno Aquino III declared a state of national calamity in the typhoon-hit areas to control prices of basic commodities and allow local governments to draw special funds for relief operations.
The official death toll rose to 540 people and nearly 850 are still missing, mostly in the Mindanao provinces of Compostela Valley and Davao Oriental. More than 1,000 were injured and about 370,000 are in temporary shelter areas.
“They have neglected us,” farmer Cresencia Blanco, 57, said.
Blanco said she and her neighbors around the town of Osmena in Compostela Valley had lost their homes and crops.
“They are focused on New Bataan,” she said, referring to another town in the valley. “Since the typhoon struck, we only got a total of 4kg of rice, that’s all.”
Nearby, Blanco’s son, Monching, held up a placard that read: “We’re hungry. We don’t have relief goods. Have mercy on us.”
As people from Osmena gathered along a highway, a convoy of trucks carrying food supplies rumbled past, with people scrambling madly for packs of noodles thrown from the trucks.
Benito Ramos, executive director of the national disaster agency, said the US had offered to send transport planes and helicopters to help bring food supplies to remote and isolated areas.
Security forces were sent to guard government warehouses and commercial centers to prevent looting after people raided a rice warehouse in a coastal area in the province of Davao Oriental.
Humanitarian agencies said some 5.4 million people affected by the typhoon urgently need food, potable water and shelter after Bopha wiped out 90 percent of houses in the worst-hit towns in Compostela Valley and Davao Oriental.
Donations from the international community have poured in, with US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta also ordering the Pacific Command to support relief and rescue operations.
Pope Benedict XVI sent a message of support to typhoon victims.
“I am praying for the victims, for their families and for the many who lost their homes,” the Pope told Catholics gathered in St Peter’s Square.
In some parts of Mindanao, people took to gold panning as floodwaters swept a mining area in the town of Mawab.
“Now, I can repair the roofs of my house,” Alexander Chavez said as entire families descended on a river to gather gold tailings.
Gold traders were buying ingots at 1,600 pesos per gram, he said, adding they are earning 2,000 pesos a day.
“Sometimes, the flood brings something good for us,” he said.