While rescuers counted up hundreds more dead from a typhoon that battered the southern Philippines, forecasters warned that the storm was regaining strength as it moved northward near the coast of Luzon island.
More than 500 people are reported dead and hundreds more remain missing after Typhoon Bopha slammed into the archipelago this week. The storm weakened after it struck the south, but has rebounded as it veers northward, now as strong as a Category 4 hurricane.
As of late Friday in the Philippines, its winds were estimated as high as 125 mph, according to the Joint Typhoon Warning Center operated by the U.S. Navy and Air Force. Weather forecasters said the storm was expected to stay offshore from the northern Philippines, but cautioned that the reenergized storm could pummel western Luzon with powerful winds and heavy rain.
"It's had more lives than a cat," said Pat Boyle, press officer for the British weather service. "It has been a very unusual storm in this sense. They usually tend to go quick and fast."
The northern island is expected to feel the brunt of the storm within 12 hours, Boyle said. The impact on Manila was expected to be minimal, however; Philippines weather forecasters predicted Friday afternoon that the capital would experience only brief showers or thunderstorms. The storm is expected to pass beyond the Philippines and its surrounding waters by Sunday night.
The deadly storm first struck the same southern islands where more than 1,200 people lost their lives to another typhoon last year, walloping parts of the Philippines that are usually outside the path of such powerful rains. More than 5 million people were displaced by the current typhoon.
The death toll from Bopha was expected to surge even higher as rescuers comb through toppled homes thick with mud and debris. As of Friday afternoon, disaster relief officials reported more than 400 people were still missing.
Dozens of roads and bridges remained blocked, and power was spotty in many areas. The Filipino national disaster agency estimated that storm damage would exceed $97 million.
While aid agencies and government officials said the southern islands were better prepared for this storm than the last, President Benigno Aquino III ordered an investigation into the disaster Friday to root out lapses in storm planning, the official Philippines News Agency reported.
In the town of New Bataan, for instance, villagers were relocated to areas that ended up being swamped with flash floods. Scores of people perished in the devastated town, which was piled with dead bodies, fallen trees and scattered debris when the Philippine Red Cross arrived. The farming town was built in an area classified as "highly susceptible to flooding and landslides," the Associated Press reported.