Typhoon Utor tore across the central Philippines yesterday, leaving four dead or missing and forcing nearly 67,000 to evacuate as officials battled to avoid a second disaster within 10 days.
The mass evacuation was intended to avert any repeat of the devastation of Super Typhoon Durian just over a week ago which unleashed massive mudslides in the eastern Bicol region that left more than 1,000 people dead or missing.
Utor has already forced the government to postpone two key regional summits this week in the central island of Cebu, which is in the path of the storm -- although sources say the real reason may be a terror threat.
In all, 66,700 people were evacuated nationwide ahead of Utor's onslaught, more than 59,000 of them in Bicol alone even though the storm was not expected to hit the region directly.
The storm hit Samar and Masbate islands overnight, forcing residents of coastal and low-lying areas to seek higher ground.
As of 10:45am yesterday Utor was over the southern tip of Mindoro island, packing maximum winds of 120km near the center and moving northwest at 17km per hour, the government weather station said.
Residents on the western island, 120km south of the capital, Manila, were yesterday advised to seek higher ground due to possible flash floods and big waves.
The typhoon passed just north of Borakay, a popular tourist destination known for its white sand beaches.
By tomorrow, it was expected to be northwest of Coron town in the western island of Palawan.
Parts of the central island of Cebu lost power due to the storm and a power barge -- a floating generator supplying electricity to the central island of Romblon -- spilled some of its fuel, causing an oil spill, the civil defense office said.
As heavy rains lashed the Bicol region, families huddled in schools and churches serving as evacuation centers, sleeping on mats and cardboard sheets laid upon concrete floors.
Some of those evacuated were allowed to return home after sunrise but others were told to stay in the evacuation centers due to fears the continuing rains would result in new mudslides.
Utor is expected to head out to the South China Sea during the next 48 hours on a path that could take it towards northern Vietnam or south China and Hong Kong.
"We expect the typhoon to intensify as it heads over the south China Sea," said Nathaniel Cruz, head of the weather forecasting at the Philippines' national weather bureau.
Power, water and communications lines across much of the region remain out of action following Super Typhoon Durian which struck on Nov. 30.
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