A powerful typhoon that has killed hundreds of people and wreaked devastation in the Philippines was set to smash into the country again today, forecasters warned.
Typhoon Bopha had looked to be heading away after destroying whole communities in the south, but the official weather agency said it had unexpectedly turned and would hit again in the early hours, this time in the north.
The agency urged people to prepare for fierce winds of up to 160 km/h and heavy rains when the storm slams into the northern tip of the main island of Luzon.
The surprise development piles more pressure on the country, which has called for international aid for the south, where floods and landslides sparked by Bopha have flattened whole villages and left tens of thousands of people homeless.
Philippine President Benigno Aquino declared a state of national calamity yesterday. A price freeze on basic commodities was put into effect, and local governments were authorised to utilise their calamity funds for search, relief and rescue operations.
A United Nations aid assessment team flew to the southern island of Mindanao, which bore the brunt of the destruction, yesterday and was met with "100 per cent destruction", said Imogen Wall, spokeswoman for the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
"This is a very poor area where everyone is dependent on agriculture. If people can't earn money from crops they won't be able to put food on the table for their families," she said. "They'll need a lot of help in the coming months."
Bopha smashed into Mindanao from the Pacific Ocean with gusts of up to 210 km/h on Tuesday. At least 548 people have been killed and about 500 others missing. About 212,000 other people have also been left homeless, according to the civil defence office.
No substantial aid had reached the isolated hamlet of Marapat yesterday, where about 4,000 survivors had only coconuts to eat, said nursing mother Virginia Dodres, 38.
All the houses had been carried off by floods, and survivors were sleeping 80 to a room on the bare concrete floor of the local school. They share its two toilets and are doing their washing and bathing at a nearby spring, which is also their only source of water.
Dodres said church workers with two big pots of porridge arrived yesterday, the first and only relief aid yet to the hamlet, which is near the devastated town of New Bataan.
Cedric Daep, a public safety specialist, said desperate survivors looted shops and warehouses in Cateel, one of three hard-hit towns on the Mindanao coast in the early aftermath of Bopha's landfall there. "The food aid took so long to arrive that the locals broke into whatever building [was] left standing in search of something to eat," said Daep,
Additional reporting by Reuters