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20 dead as typhoon smashes Philippines

Residents repair their damaged shanty house along coastal road in Paranaque suburban Manila on July 14, 2010 after Typhoon Conson hit the country's capital late on July 13. Typhoon Conson ripped through the main Philippine island, leaving a trail of wreckage in Manila and sweeping shanties into the sea, officials and witnesses said. There were no immediate reports of fatalities but communication systems were down amid the chaos of the typhoon's aftermath, and disaster relief officials were still trying to determine the extent of the damage. Photo courtesy AFP.

Business counts cost of outage after Philippine typhoon
Manila (AFP) July 14, 2010 - A deadly typhoon that caused a near total blackout in the Philippine capital on Wednesday may cost the nation's economy hundreds of millions of dollars, a business leader said. Many office towers in Manila were without power and mobile phone networks collapsed after Typhoon Conson ripped through the city and neighbouring regions overnight, killing at least 20 people. Businessman Antonio Ramon Ongsiako, a director at the Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines, told AFP that the power cuts likely cost the country 10 billion pesos (216 million dollars) a day in lost opportunities. "You have to remember that Metro Manila alone accounts for more than 30 percent of GDP (gross domestic product)," he told AFP.

Many business people could not get to their offices because public transport was cancelled and roads were blocked by fallen trees and other debris. Ongsiako made it into work but was among many who fled their blacked-out offices for the relative comfort of coffee shops and malls that had their own generators. "I'm sitting here at a Starbucks (coffee shop)," he said. "Many of the banks were offline. We cannot work." By the end of office hours on Wednesday, 80 percent of Manila was still without electricity. The country's power transmission firm warned it would take two days to restore power to Manila and four days throughout the main island of Luzon, which accounts for half the population and contributes 75 percent of GDP.

It previously estimated the cost in lost opportunities of an hour of power outage in the Luzon grid at 175 million pesos. That would equate to roughly 90 million dollars over 24 hours. However a former energy minister, Raphael Perpetuo Lotilla, said the impact would be benign as long as power was restored speedily. "A small blip like that will hardly make a dent in your overall GDP. If it is going to be prolonged, that is when you begin to worry," Lotilla, who served under the previous government of Gloria Arroyo, told AFP. Last year, widespread flooding and landslides caused by tropical storms Ketsana and Parma killed more than 1,100 people and caused 4.38 billion dollars of damage, equivalent to 2.7 percent of GDP, according to government estimates.
by Staff Writers
Manila (AFP) July 14, 2010
Typhoon Conson ripped across the Philippines on Wednesday, killing at least 20 people as it destroyed shanty towns and caused widespread blackouts that brought the nation's capital to a standstill.

Sixty other people were reported missing after Conson hit the Southeast Asian archipelago late on Tuesday, then whipped the main island of Luzon throughout the night with wind gusts of 120 kilometres (74 miles) an hour.

"The wind howled like a child screaming," said Rigor Sambol, 52, a father of six who lives in a coastal shanty town on the outskirts of Manila that was partly destroyed.

"It was so strong, our houseboat nearly got flipped over. I had to take the children one by one to a nearby gym where they spent the evening on the cold floor."

Some of the flimsy slum homes erected by squatters along the coast were swept away entirely, leaving the shocked residents to scavenge scrap wood to build makeshift shelters, according to an AFP reporter there.

Authorities across Luzon said 20 people had been confirmed killed, including two squatters from a vast lakeside shanty town near Manila who were crushed when their homes collapsed.

Fifty-seven fishermen were also missing, while three other people were unaccounted for south of the capital after flooding swept away their shanties, according to the military.

The Philippines is in the so-called typhoon belt of the Pacific. Up to 20 typhoons sweep through the country each year, killing hundreds of people.

But the ferocity of Conson, which was the first typhoon of the season, took many people in Manila by surprise after the state weather service said it would only strike provinces to the north of the capital.

Electricity was knocked out for most of Manila, causing major problems for businesses and forcing schools to close in the city of 12 million people.

The national energy transmission company said 80 percent of Manila remained without power by nightfall and that it could take until Friday for supplies across the city to be restored completely.

Other areas of Luzon may have to wait until the weekend, the company warned.

The capital's overhead railway system was also shut down due to the power outage, while international and domestic flights were disrupted.

For workers in office towers that were relying on back-up generators, it was still difficult to make telephone calls on both landline and mobile networks, while Internet services were also interrupted.

Businessman Antonio Ramon Ongsiako, a director at the Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines, told AFP that the power cuts would likely cost the country 10 billion pesos (216 million dollars) a day in lost opportunities.

Conson blew past Luzon and into the South China Sea on Wednesday morning, and by nightfall was heading towards Hainan Island in southern China.

President Benigno Aquino let rip at the state weather service for not warning Manila's residents that Conson would hit the city.

"This is not acceptable," Aquino told red-faced weather service officials at an emergency meeting of rescue agencies.

"We rely on you to tell us where the potential problems are.

"All the agencies have adequately met their responsibilities at this point in time but your information is sorely lacking. We have had this problem for quite a long time."

The ill-equipped Philippine weather service came in for criticism in September last year when it failed to warn the residents of Manila about the threat from Tropical Storm Ketsana, which killed 464 people.

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