Typhoon bears down on Philippines

2014-12-05 17:10
The MODIS instrument aboard NASA's Terra satellite captured this visible image of Typhoon Halong, as it continued approaching southern Japan. AFP PHOTO/(Nasa Goddard MODIS Rapid Response Team, AFP)

The MODIS instrument aboard NASA's Terra satellite captured this visible image of Typhoon Halong, as it continued approaching southern Japan. AFP PHOTO/(Nasa Goddard MODIS Rapid Response Team, AFP)

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Tacloban - Millions of people in the Philippines sought shelter in churches, schools and other makeshift evacuation centres on Friday as Typhoon Hagupit bore down on the disaster-weary nation.

The storm, which would be the strongest to hit the Southeast Asian archipelago this year, is expected to impact more than half the nation including communities devastated by Super Typhoon Haiyan last year.

Authorities said millions of people were pouring into evacuation centres ahead of Hagupit's expected landfall on Saturday night or Sunday, having learnt the lessons of early preparations after Haiyan.

"Everyone here is gripped with fear," Rita Villadolid, 39, told AFP as she sat with her family and hundreds of other people inside a stadium in Tacloban, one of the cities still yet to recover from Haiyan.

Elsewhere in Tacloban, a coastal city of 220 000 people on the eastern island of Leyte, people began flooding into churches and schools with little more than bags of clothes and rice.

Haiyan, the strongest storm ever recorded on land with winds of 315km/h, killed or left missing more than 7 350 people as it tore across the central Philippines in November last year.

Hagupit weakened slightly on Friday and was downgraded from a super typhoon category as it tracked towards the Philippines in the Pacific Ocean, generating maximum winds of 195km/h.

But Hagupit was still predicted to be the strongest storm to hit the Philippines this year, bringing storm surges more than one storey high to many coastal areas, according to state weather agency Pagasa.

Hagupit's giant front of more than 600km meant about 50 million people, or half the nation's population, were living in vulnerable areas, Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman told AFP.

Mass evacuations

She said 100 000 families, or about half a million people, were already in evacuation centres by Friday night, and many more would follow on Saturday.

In the eastern region of Bicol alone, which sits in Hagupit's direct path, the government was aiming to move 2.5 million into evacuation centres, regional civil defence director Bernardo Alejandro told AFP.

"All resources are being mobilised," Alejandro said, adding local government and military trucks were being deployed to transport people to the shelters.

Bicol is a farming and fishing region slightly to the north of Leyte and other areas that were the worst hit by Haiyan last year.

But Tacloban and other parts of the central Visayas region, where buildings still lie in rubble after being destroyed by Haiyan, were also close to Hagupit's forecast direct path.

Still, the memories of Haiyan, where people died after being surprised by giant storm surges, had raised awareness about the need to evacuate early for Hagupit, according to local and national authorities.

"Last year they called us crazy when we asked them to evacuate, now they are doing it on their own," Tacloban vice mayor Jerry Yaokasin told AFP.

Metro Manila, the nation's capital with a population of more than 12 million people, could also suffer a direct hit, according to the US Navy's Joint Typhoon Warning Centre.

Authorities in Manila, about 800km to the west of where Hagupit was expected to initially make landfall, said they were preparing for heavy flooding on Monday.

Twenty storms

The Philippines is often the first major land mass hit by typhoons and major tropical storms that are created in the Pacific Ocean. It endures about 20 major storms a year, many of them deadly.

The previous strongest storm this year was Rammasun, which killed more than 100 people when it cut across Manila and other parts of the main island of Luzon in July.

The Philippines has in recent years faced unusually strong storms that scientists have warned are linked to climate change.

More than 1 900 people were left dead or missing in December 2012 after Typhoon Bopha hit the southern Philippine island of Mindanao, an area that does not normally experience major storms.

In December 2011, 1 268 people were killed when Tropical Storm Washi caused massive flooding in another part of Mindanao.

Haiyan, Bopha and Washi were the world's deadliest storms of the past three years.

Read more on:    philippines  |  weather

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