Philippines storm kills 27

AFP, MANILA

Wed, Dec 10, 2014 - Page 5

A giant storm swept out of the Philippines yesterday after killing at least 27 people and devastating remote coastal communities, but there was relief that it spared the capital and other areas from disaster.

Typhoon Hagupit struck the far eastern island of Samar on Saturday with winds of 210kph, making it the most powerful storm to hit the Philippines this year and threatening widespread destruction.

However, the typhoon steadily weakened as it traveled west across the central Philippines, passing close to the capital, Manila, on Monday night with only a fraction of the forecast torrential rain.

After a series of catastrophic storms in recent years killed thousands, Philippine President Benigno Aquino III spearheaded what the UN said was one of the biggest peacetime evacuation efforts ever.

Aquino issued nationwide orders to ensure there was no repeat of Typhoon Haiyan, which claimed more than 7,350 lives as it devastated entire communities in November last year. Nearly 1.7 million people sheltered in evacuation centers as Hagupit passed their areas, according to government figures, and authorities hailed the strategy as a template for coping with future disasters.

“One of the lessons [from Haiyan] was to evacuate before the storm hits,” Philippine Red Cross chairman Richard Gordon told reporters.

“Evacuate if you live near the sea, evacuate if you live near trees whose branches might fall on you,” Gordon said. “That lesson was learnt.”

Gordon said another crucial factor was that Hagupit did not generate storm surges, compared with Haiyan when walls of seawater more than two stories high laid waste to hundreds of thousands of coastal homes.

In Manila, tens of thousands of people, mostly the city’s poorest residents living in shanty homes along the coast and riverbanks, spent Monday night in evacuation centers to wait out the storm.

They returned to their homes yesterday in drizzly weather after only moderate rain and no major flooding throughout the night.

“I’m relieved and thankful that I still have my house, but I pity those who have lost their homes in the Visayas,” 63-year-old Corazon Macario said as she prepared to leave a Manila evacuation center and head back to the riverside shanty she shares with her husband and seven relatives.

Macario was referring to the central islands of the Southeast Asian archipelago that felt the full force of Hagupit and Haiyan.

They include Samar, one of the nation’s poorest islands — about 600km southeast of Manila — which has long suffered because it is regularly the first to be hit by storms that sweep in from the Pacific Ocean.

Most of the 27 people reported to have been killed were in Samar, according to the Red Cross.

The military flew emergency flights with food, water and other essentials from Cebu to the worst-affected areas on Samar yesterday.