Millions take shelter in Philippine capital ahead of deadly storm

Thousands of people, mostly the city’s poorest residents who live in shanty homes along the coast and riverbanks, crammed into schools and other government evacuation centres across Metro Manila on Monday.

MANILA // Millions of people in Manila were taking shelter on Monday as a major storm churned towards the megacity from island provinces where it killed at least 23 people and destroyed thousands of homes.

Hagupit, the strongest storm to hit the Philippines this year with wind gusts of 210 kilometres per hour when it made landfall late on Saturday, caused massive destruction in remote farming and fishing towns.

Power lines were torn down, landslides blocked roads, and flood waters up to one storey high flowed through some towns.

The storm has weakened from a typhoon as it moves slowly across the central Philippines, however, fuelling cautious optimism that the disaster-weary nation may avoid another calamity involving hundreds of deaths.

In Metro Manila, a sprawling coastal megalopolis of 12 million people that regularly endures deadly flooding, well-drilled evacuation efforts went into full swing as forecasters warned of heavy rain from dusk.

“We are on 24-hour alert for floods and storm surges ... it’s the flooding that we are worried about,” Manila’s mayor, Joseph Estrada, said. Manila is the original city of two million within Metro Manila.

Thousands of people, mostly the city’s poorest residents who live in shanty homes along the coast and riverbanks, crammed into schools and other government evacuation centres across the megacity on Monday.

Schools were suspended, the stock market was closed, many office and government workers were told to stay at home, and dozens of commercial flights were cancelled.

The preparations were part of a massive effort led by President Benigno Aquino to ensure minimum deaths, after 7,350 people died when Super Typhoon Haiyan devastated large parts of the central Philippines in November last year.

Hagupit has killed at least 23 people so far, with 18 deaths occurring on Samar island where the storm made landfall.

Sixteen people died in Borongan, one of the main cities along Samar’s east coast that faces the Pacific Ocean and about 50 kilometres south of where Hagupit struck.

The death toll was widely expected to climb, however, with damage assessments from some badly hit areas yet to come in, and the storm not expected to fully cross the archipelago of 7,100 islands until Tuesday.

In Tacloban, a city of 220,000 people that was one of the worst-hit during Haiyan, authorities said there were no casualties over the weekend despite fierce winds that destroyed homes.

“There is a collective sigh of relief ... we were better prepared after Yolanda,” Tacloban vice mayor Jerry Yaokasin said on Sunday, referring to Haiyan by its Philippine name.

Just as crucially, however, Hagupit’s winds were significantly weaker than Haiyan’s. There was also no repeat of Haiyan’s tsunami-like storm surges.

Hagupit’s sustained winds dropped to 140 kph on Sunday, then continued to weaken after leaving the eastern Philippine islands and passing over the Sibuyan Sea south-east of Manila.

Winds dropped again to 110kph on Monday and were expected to weaken further as Hagupit passed just south of the capital in the evening.

Local weather agency Pagasa said the winds were still capable of doing major damage to homes, however, and heavy rains were expected within Hagupit’s 450-kilometre-wide weather front.

The Philippines endures about 20 major storms a year, many of them deadly.

But scientists say the storms are becoming more violent and unpredictable because of climate change.

Greenpeace International director Kumi Naidoo called on United Nations negotiators currently meeting in Peru to take note of Hagupit and act with more urgency to hammer out a world pact on global warming.

“Nature does not negotiate. We actually have to wake up and smell the coffee,” Mr Naidoo, who is in the Philippines to “bear witness” to Hagupit, said.

“We need to understand that we are running out of time.”

*Agence France-Presse

Published: December 8, 2014 04:00 AM

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