Tens of thousands flee as Christmas typhoon hits Philippines

DARAGA, PHILIPPINES: A powerful typhoon with gusts of up to 235 kilometres (146 miles) an hour hit the Philippines late Sunday, disrupting Christmas celebrations for tens of thousands who fled its approach, officials said.


Typhoon Nock-Ten made landfall in the eastern island province of Catanduanes at 6:30 pm (1030 GMT), the state weather service said.

There were no immediate official reports of damage or casualties from the storm, one of the strongest this year to hit the disaster-prone archipelago on the Pacific Rim.

The military and local governments earlier moved at least 102,000 people from the coasts and other hazardous areas of Catanduanes and the nearby Bicol peninsula, provincial officials said, after experts warned of possible huge waves, floods and landslides.

The typhoon was forecast to sweep west and threaten the country’s most densely populated areas including the capital Manila on Monday morning.

“It would pass over land overnight and we hope that would dissipate the typhoon’s strength somewhat,” state weather forecaster Lorie de la Cruz told AFP.

She said maximum sustained winds were 185 kph at 0900 GMT but the agency did not have the figure during landfall itself.

In the Bicol region in the south of the main island of Luzon, babies, toddlers and old people were loaded onto military trucks in pouring rain earlier Sunday as the weather service warned of possible storm surges up to 2.5-metres (eight-feet) high, landslides and flash floods.

Nock-Ten, named after a bird found in Laos, struck on one of the biggest holidays in the mainly Christian nation, and one provincial governor offered roast pig at evacuation centres to entice people to abandon celebrations at home.

“Floods terrify me. Each time I hear about a coming typhoon I want to throw up,” Criselda Buenvenuto, 68, told AFP as she joined neighbours sheltering at a school in the town of Santo Domingo in Bicol.

‘Forced’ evacuation

The hunchbacked widow lived alone in the kitchen of her house after the rest of it was destroyed during a typhoon 10 years ago that killed more than a thousand people.

In the village of Alcala on the slopes of the active Mayon volcano, about 100 babies, toddlers, parents and elderly people were the first to be trucked off to another school as rain and strong winds shook trees.

“There are large ash deposits on the slopes (of Mayon). Heavy rain can dislodge them and bury our homes in mud,” said Alberto Lindo, an official in the farming village of 3,300 people.

The government forced more than 12,000 residents to move away from the Catanduanes coast, provincial vice governor Shirley Abundo said on ABS-CBN television.

In Camarines Sur province near Catanduanes, governor Miguel Villafuerte said on his Facebook page that nearly 90,000 residents were moved out of their homes as part of his “zero casualty” goal.

“Please evacuate, we will offer roast pig at the evacuation centres,” he said in another post on Twitter.

Civil defence officials in Bicol said earlier nearly half a million people in the region were in harm’s way and needed to be moved out.

The military and local governments sent trucks on Christmas Day to clear people from coastal communities and other areas hit by landslides or flash floods in previous storms.

Clear the beaches

Some 20 typhoons or lesser storms strike the Philippines each year, routinely killing hundreds of people, and Bicol is often the first region to be hit.

It prides itself on having sharpened its disaster response to minimise casualties, and all ferry services and commercial flights in Bicol were suspended.

Rescue workers in Manila and the flood-prone central Luzon plains to the north have been put on standby, evacuation centres opened and food and other rations stocked.

The coastguard on Sunday ordered the beaches south of Manila to be cleared of holidaymakers by Monday, while residents of the capital’s seaside slums were warned to leave their homes.

Mammoth tsunami-like waves devastated the city of Tacloban and nearby areas when super typhoon Haiyan struck the central Philippines in November 2013, leaving 7,350 people dead or missing.



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