NEW BATAAN, Philippines (Reuters) - A much-weakened storm was set to make landfall in the Philippines’ northwest on Sunday, five days after the year’s strongest typhoon killed 540 people and caused crop damage worth about 8 billion pesos ($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 centre of 55 kph (35 mph), changed course back towards land after heading into the South China Sea.
Typhoon Bopha first hit land on Tuesday with winds stronger than Hurricane Sandy that devastated the U.S. 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, President Benigno Aquino declared a state of national calamity in the typhoon-hit areas to control prices of basic commodities and allow local governments to draw special calamity 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, told Reuters. Blanco said she and her neighbors around Osmena town 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 four kilos 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 United States 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 Davao Oriental province.
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 U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta also ordering the Pacific Command to support relief and rescue operations.
Pope Benedict XVI also 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 Mawab town. “Now, I can repair the roofs of my house,” Alexander Chavez told Reuters as entire families descended on a river to gather gold tailings.
Gold traders were buying ingots at 1,600 pesos ($39) per gram, he said, adding they are earning 2,000 pesos a day. “Sometimes, the flood brings something good for us.” ($1 = 40.9450 Philippine pesos)
Reporting by Erik de Castro; Additional reporting By Manuel Mogato in MANILA,; Editing by Paul Tait