• THOUSANDS FLEE AS ‘AGATON’ THREATENS

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    Residents near Butuan City have been struggling with rains and floods for almost a week, and Storm Agaton is expected to add to their misery when it hits Mindanao this weekend. AFP PHOTO

    Thousands of people fled rising floods and an approaching storm in a fresh round of evacuations in Mindanao, officials said on Friday as the death toll from a week of rains rose to 37.

    Nearly 13,000 people left their villages along the flooded banks of the Agusan River in the past 24 hours, the Office of Civil Defense in the region said in an updated report.

    “The rains come to this region around this time, but this year has been terrible,” John Uayan, an operations official for the government agency, told reporters.

    The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa) said the low-pressure area lingering off the country’s east coast has turned into a tropical depression and would hit Mindanao’s coast on Saturday, increasing the danger to residents of the already flooded Agusan basin.

    The storm, named Agaton, looks set to spare the nearby region where
    Super Typhoon Yolanda left nearly 8,000 people dead or missing and made more than four million people homeless in November—a rare piece of good news for the disaster-weary Asian nation.

    But many in Mindanao were bracing for a fresh wave of heavy rains and floods.

    “We expect intense rain over the [Agusan] region starting tonight,” Pagasa forecaster Alczar Aurelio told a news conference.

    “The public is being warned about the possibility of landslides and flash floods,” Reynaldo Balido, spokesman for the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC).

    The Philippine Coast Guard expects stormy local waters and has barred ferries from setting sail, Balido told the news conference.

    More than 218,000 people are now temporarily housed in schools and other government buildings across the eastern third of Mindanao after a week of bad weather, civil defense officials said on Friday.

    Some of them have been there since shortly after heavy rains began pounding the region on January 10, they added.

    Floods and landslides unleashed by heavy rains killed 18 people in the Agusan basin, including a woman who drowned on Thursday and three gold prospectors whose bodies were pulled from a landslide.

    Nineteen other people were killed earlier in the week along Mindanao’s east coast, including areas still recovering from Typhoon Pablo that left 1,900 people dead or missing in December 2012, they added.

    Two ferries and a cargo vessel ran aground off Cebu and Bohol on Wednesday and Thursday, but no casualties were reported and nearly 400 passengers and crew are being transferred to other vessels, the coast guard said.

    Pagasa said Agaton was moving in a southwest direction at 5 kilometers per hour with 55 kph winds.

    On Friday noon, it was tracked 150 kilometers northeast of Hinatuan, Surigao del Sur.

    Storm Signal Number 1 was raised in Surigao del Norte including Siargao island, Surigao del Sur, Dinagat Province, Agusan del Norte, Agusan del Sur, Davao Oriental, and Compostela Valley.

    Aurelio said Agaton could weaken once it crosses the Mount Apo area in Davao because the mountain “can break the cloud formation of a cyclone.”

    The NDRRMC listed 34 dead, with 16 in the Davao region (Region 11), 15 in Caraga Region, two in Northern Mindanao (Region 10) and one in the Zamboanga Peninusla (Region 9).

    The NDRRMC reported close to a 100,000 families were affected in 467 barangays in 72 municipalities in 14 provinces of Regions 10, 11 and Caraga.

    It said 57 roads and 21 bridges were closed by floods and landslides in Regions 9, 10, 11 and Caraga.

    As many as 8,000 travellers were stranded in Bicol ports on Friday after ferry trips were cancelled by the coast guard.

    Almost 7,500 passengers were stranded at the ferry crossing in Matnog, Sorsogon.

    At least four ferries shuttling between Matnog and Allen, Samar, have been grounded.

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