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Huge typhoon lashes southern Philippines

At least six die in the strongest storm to batter nation this year

AFP-JIJI, Bloomberg

Typhoon Bopha killed at least six people in the Philippines on Tuesday as the strongest storm to hit the country this year forced more than 50,000 to seek refuge in emergency shelters, officials said.

Bopha made landfall on the island of Mindanao in the south of the country at dawn, bringing driving rain and packing gusts of up to 210 kph that toppled trees and brought down power lines.

Six people were killed, including an elderly woman who was crushed to death when a tree fell on her house, rescue officials said, without identifying the other five or saying how they had died.

Four fishermen were also reported missing off Mindanao’s eastern coast, said Freddie Bendulo, planning and development officer of Davao Oriental Province.

“We expect floods and landslides,” weather forecaster Fernando Cada said by phone, adding that Bopha may not cause the same devastation as last year’s Tropical Storm Washi, the deadliest to hit the Philippines since 2008.

By early afternoon, the typhoon had slowed and weakened somewhat with top gusts of 195 kph, the state weather service said.

Civil Defense Office chief Benito Ramos said the storm altered course and had been expected to hit the central islands of Bohol, Negros and the popular tourist resort island of Cebu later Tuesday.

Hundreds of people are killed each year by the 20 or so tropical cyclones that hit the Philippines, but Ramos said the relatively low number of casualties so far from Bopha were due to government efforts to quickly move people to safety.

“So far, casualties have been minimal. We attribute this to the cooperation of our people and the efforts of local officials,” he told reporters.

Winds blew roofs off some buildings and residents of coastal and low-lying communities in Mindanao moved into shelters as floods hit some areas, according to residents and reporters.

More than 53,000 people had moved into nearly 1,000 government shelters by early Tuesday, the Civil Defense Office said.

A total of 145 flights to and from Mindanao and the central islands had been grounded since Monday night and more than 3,000 ferry passengers were stranded as vessels were ordered to stay in port, the defense office said.

Large parts of Mindanao, which is not normally hit by typhoons, were without electricity after power was cut to reduce the risk of fires and electrocutions, said Liza Mazo, a regional civil defense official.

People living in the path of the storm did what they could to protect their homes and possessions.

“We have taken our pigs and chickens inside our house because their shed might be destroyed,” Marianita Villamor, a 46-year-old shopkeeper from the farming town of San Fermin on Mindanao’s eastern coast, said by telephone.

Villamor said her relatives who lived in a nearby coastal area had joined hundreds of other families who moved into temporary shelters, including schools and other government buildings, late Monday.

In Tagum, a city of 243,000 people, hotel waiter Edgie Atilano, 23, said he and his family hunkered down in their home as Bopha bore down.

“At 3 a.m. we were woken by strong rain and howling winds. Trees and branches started snapping off near the house,” said the father of two, who added that nearby roads were blocked with fallen trees.

“This is my first time to experience a strong typhoon. It was a bit scary,” he added.

The commercial center of Cagayan de Oro, a city of 600,000 people, was hit by flooding as rivers overflowed.

The city’ mayor, Vicente Emano, told ABS-CBN television that police rounded up all the residents of low-lying areas Tuesday and moved them to government shelters.

“There were people who refused to leave their homes yesterday,” Emano said. “Now those areas are under code red (flood risk), so I ordered the police to go and force them to leave because these areas could soon be flooded.”