MANILA, Philippines -- An out-of-season typhoon killed 325 people and left 379 missing Wednesday in the Philippines in the most devastating cyclone to hit the nation this year even after the government said it was better prepared for disasters.
Typhoon Bopha, known locally as Pablo, left a trail of death and destruction in some coastal and mining towns on the southern island of Mindanao, the region that was also battered a year ago by the most deadly cyclone since 2008. As the storm heads to Palawan, its wind speed slowed to 71 mph as of 6 a.m. today, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council said.
"The government's disaster response has improved dramatically, but preparations for calamities require a lot more effort," Segundo Romero, a program director at the Ateneo de Manila University's School of Government, said today. "While resettlement may be a longer-term solution, you can only relocate people if they understand and accept the risks. It requires an effective communication campaign."
The Southeast Asian nation is regularly hit by cyclones that form over the Pacific Ocean, causing devastation that often prompts criticism of the government's disaster-response efforts. Typhoon Washi killed more than 1,200 people, mostly in Mindanao, in December 2011. In September 2009, Typhoon Ketsana flooded Manila and parts of Luzon, killing more than 400 people. Monsoon rains flooded half of the Manila region in August.
The storm has changed direction slightly and may hit Vietnam or Cambodia after exiting the Philippines early Friday, Aldczar Aurelio, a state weather forecaster, said.
Coastal towns of Cateel, Baganga and Boston in Davao Oriental with a combined population of about 150,000 are isolated, without electricity and mobile-phone coverage after bridges were destroyed by the typhoon, Interior Secretary Mar Roxas told local radio DZMM. Bodies caked in mud line the road, Mr. Roxas said, appealing for assistance with coffins and body bags.
President Benigno Aquino, who is scheduled to visit some of the affected areas, asked mayors and governors Wednesday if there was something the government could have done to prevent casualties. His civil defense head, Benito Ramos, said Sunday, before Bopha hit, that the nation is "very prepared," having warned residents on the storm's path five days before it was due to enter the Philippines.
More than 179,000 people are in evacuation centers and almost 2,500 are stranded in seaports, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council said in its latest bulletin. About 178 million pesos ($4.4 million) of infrastructure, agriculture and property was destroyed, the agency said.
The cyclone may hit about 100,000 hectares of land planted with rice in the southern Philippines, Agriculture Assistant Secretary Dante Delima said Monday before Bopha landed.