Typhoon howls through Philippines, more than one million flee


A powerful, slow-moving typhoon pounded through the central Philippines on Sunday, bringing howling winds that toppled trees and power lines and cut off communications to areas still scarred by a super-storm just over a year ago.

Typhoon Hagupit did not appear to have wreaked devastation on the same scale as last year's deadly Typhoon Haiyan, but officials cautioned that the picture remained incomplete with many of the first areas to feel the storm's force still cut off.

More than 1 million people had fled to shelters away from coastal areas and landslide-prone villages by the time Typhoon Hagupit slammed into the town of Dolores, on the eastern coast of Samar island, on Saturday night.

"We need to punch through up to Dolores to see the impact there, that's where the landfall was, we need to see so we can report back to Manila," Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas told a local radio interview from Samar.

The radio report described Roxas as travelling by motorbike to oversee workers using chainsaws to clear huge fallen trees.

Most of the houses, made of light materials, on both sides of the road were destroyed and residents lined the route asking for food, water and other supplies. Roofs were blown away while thatched houses were lifted and dumped metres away.

Hagupit, which days earlier had reached category 5 "super typhoon" strength as it churned across the Pacific Ocean, weakened on Sunday to category 2 as it made a second landfall at Cataingan town in the south of Masbate island.

There were no initial reports of the kinds of storm surges that were so destructive during Typhoon Haiyan, which killed more than 7,000 people across the central Philippines.

"Structural damage was caused mostly by wind, not by storm surge," said presidential spokeswoman Abigail Valte.


Power was cut across most of Samar and nearby Leyte province, including Tacloban City, considered ground zero of the devastating super typhoon Haiyan last year. Power and communications were also down in Masbate, parts of Cebu island and some southern provinces of the main island Luzon.

"I can't penetrate the areas, I can't go north or south because of fallen trees and power lines. Many areas are flooded," Ben Evardone, congressman for Eastern Samar, said from his base in the provincial capital Borongan.

General Gregorio Catapang, head of the military, said nearly 2,000 soldiers were clearing the roads and two airports on Samar to bring in food trucks and aircraft.

Local radio reported at least five people were killed in Eastern Samar and Iloilo province on Panay island to the west, but that could not be confirmed by officials. The Philippine Red Cross said it was also verifying the reports.

The typhoon was crawling west northwest at 10 kph (6 mph), with sustained winds of 140 kph (86 mph) and gusts of up to 170 kph (105 mph), the Philippine weather bureau PAGASA said.

The weather bureau said Hagupit - which means "lash" in Filipino - was following its predicted path through the archipelago's central belt, slightly north of areas devastated by super typhoon Haiyan last year.

It was expected to make a third landfall on the small island of Sibuyan early on Monday before passing around 120 km south of the capital Manila, PAGASA said.


More than 1.2 million people had crowded over 1,500 evacuation centres in schools, civic centres, town halls, gyms and churches across the central Philippines, said Gwendolyn Pang, secretary general of the Philippine Red Cross.

Alfred Romnualdez, mayor of Tacloban, said although more than 48,000 residents had fled to shelters, damage to the city appeared to have been minor.

"Thank God, the typhoon spared us and we have no reported casualties," Romualdez told Reuters. "By the end of the day we expect the people to return to their homes from shelter areas."

By Sunday evening, people were also returning to their homes from shelters in Leyte island and southern Luzon.

Environment and humanitarian groups are hoping the typhoon would spur action at UN climate talks in Lima, where almost 200 nations are meeting to work out an accord to slow global warming, due at a summit in Paris in a year's time.

"My country is under water, farms have been wiped away, homes destroyed, families separated," Shubert Ciencia of the Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement and a member of global relief organisation Oxfam, said in Lima.

An Oxfam report in November showed Asia is highly vulnerable to increasingly severe and frequent weather extremes and woefully underprepared to manage growing crises.