February 15, 2006

Manila raises typhoon,flood alert;16 dead from rains

By Rosemarie Francisco

MANILA (Reuters) - The Philippines has warned farmers and
ordered government agencies to prepare for heavy rains and
flash floods from a stormy La Nina weather pattern that has
already killed 16 in the country's southeastern provinces.

Heavy rains, which the weather bureau blamed on a nascent
La Nina, have triggered landslides, massive flooding and the
evacuation of hundreds of families in the Philippines, which
grows rice, corn, coconuts, mangoes and other tropical fruit.

The damage to infrastructure and agriculture from recent
heavy rains in central and southern provinces has already cost
114.6 million pesos ($2.2 million), the National Disaster
Coordinating Council said.

The country's weather bureau told Reuters damages across
the country from continuous heavy rains were likely to rise.

Flaviana Hilario, weather services chief at the
meteorological bureau, said that the number of storms passing
through the Philippines would not necessarily rise during a La
Nina but the storms were expected to hit closer to the
country's 7,100 islands, resulting in more damage.

"Not all La Ninas are the same in terms of impact," Hilario
said in a phone interview. "In some La Nina years, the number
of storms reached as high as 23. But in most episodes, the
track is closer to the Philippines."

Agriculture Secretary Domingo Panganiban said in a radio
interview he was drafting a contingency plan to widen areas
planted for rice, the country's water-dependent staple, and to
help farmers in areas likely to be hit by heavy rains to shift
to other crops.

Agriculture makes up about one-fifth of the country's gross
domestic product and is one of the largest employers.

The Philippines is hit by about 20 typhoons each year,
including a series of storms in late 2004 that left about 1,800
people dead or missing in provinces northeast of the capital.

La Nina features unusually cool surface temperatures in the
Pacific Ocean resulting in storm surges and strong winds. The
weather bureau said typhoons, floods and rains since November
may be linked to the development of the pattern.

Hilario said a La Nina episode, expected to last three to
six months, would be confirmed if sea surface temperature
thresholds were breached for five consecutive months.

The Philippines was likely to see normal to above normal
rainfall at least up to May, more tropical cyclones and
flooding in some areas, the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical
and Astronomical Services Administration said in a statement on
its website.

(With reporting by Dolly Aglay)