El Niño's nasty little sister causes havoc in southern Philippines
MANILA, Feb 23 (AFP) - Floods killed 39 people in the southern Philippines last weekend as the weather pattern known as La Niña inflicted torrential rain on the southern island of Mindanao, officials and experts said Tuesday.
The Lanao region deluge, which also displaced 2,700 people, followed another bout of heavy flooding in the Agusan river basin of Mindanao earlier this month which left 24 dead, eight missing and nearly half a million homeless.
"We are now paying dearly for our crimes against nature," Defense Secretary Orlando Mercado told a news conference.
He said the overflowing of the Larapan river which swamped Iligan city and the towns of Kauswagan, Linamon and Bacolod last weekend were made more deadly by the loss of forest cover, with the result that the ground failed to hold the water upriver.
The Red Cross counted 39 people dead and several others missing, while the government's civil defense office put the toll at 31 dead and 50 missing.
Tornadoes lashed coastal areas during the rain. About 500 houses were damaged, and total property, crop and infrastracture losses totalled 47 million pesos (1.2 million dollars), Mercado said.
Red Cross spokesman James Sian told AFP many of the victims were "the poorest of the poor," living precariously on riverbanks and shorelines.
The flooding is part of the overall weather pattern of La Niña which is now affecting Mindanao, said climatologist Nathaniel Cruz of the government weather service.
Rainfall levels in Mindanao are "way above the normal" levels this month, with the southern city of Dipolog getting "more than seven times" the average precipitation for this time of the year, Cruz told AFP.
The island, with an area three times the size of Belgium, had suffered the other extreme of the weather between 1997 and the first half of 1998 when a long dry spell caused by the El Niño pattern left 64 people dead and caused severe food shortages for 3.5 million other.
El Niño is caused by a rise of surface water temperatures in the southeast Pacific region, off the coast of South America.
La Niña, which began in October last year, is caused when the water gets colder in the southeast Pacific area which leads to warming in the Australasia region.
Cruz said the prevailing northeast monsoons will ensure heavy rainfall in Mindanao until next month, after which the wind systems will shift to the southwest to magnify La Niña's effects on the eastern seaboard of the main Philippine island of Luzon until May or June.
He said the warmer ocean surface temperatures on the western Pacific were an ideal "breeding place for tropical cyclones," with the result that the Philippines was likely to receive more than its share of typhoons this year than last year's 11, and the 13 in 1997.
However, if the other weather patterns hold then La Niña's ravages will have waned by the time the normal typhoon season starts in June, Cruz said.
Typhoons kill several thousand people in the Philippines every year.
Copyright (c) 1999 Agence France-Presse
Received by NewsEdge Insight: 02/23/1999 09:38:29
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