Typhoon power woes in Philippines as death toll hits 38

Most of the people who died were outdoors, killed by falling trees, collapsing buildings and flying debris.

Filipino residents re-build destroyed homes in the city of Muntinlupa, south of Manila, Philippines on 17 July 2014. The strongest storm to hit the Philippines this year, Typhoon Rammasun, killed 38 people and left nearly 2 million in the capital and eastern provinces without power for a second day. Francis R Malasig/ EPA
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MANILA // Millions of people in the Philippines endured a second sweltering day without power on Thursday after a ferocious typhoon paralysed the capital and wrecked flimsy rural homes, claiming at least 38 lives.

Authorities expressed frustration as reports from badly damaged areas filtered in and the death toll from Typhoon Rammasun – the first major storm of the Southeast Asian country's rainy season – reached 38.

“We still have to find out what exactly are the reasons a lot of our countrymen refuse to heed the warnings,” National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council chief Alexander Pama said.

As part of a “zero casualty” effort, the government evacuated nearly 400,000 people from the path of Rammasun and warned others to stay indoors.

But most of the people who died were outdoors, killed by falling trees, collapsing buildings and flying debris, according to the council’s data.

Mr Pama said the death toll could rise further, with mobile phone and other forms of communication still cut to some rural areas. He said at least eight people remained missing.

Rammasun, a Thai word for “Thunder God”, swept in off the Pacific Ocean on Tuesday night, bringing wind gusts of up to 160 kilometres an hour across land to Manila and other heavily populated northern regions.

“It really scrambled whole towns, blowing down houses and toppling power lines,” the chairman of the Philippine Red Cross, Richard Gordon said.

The typhoon destroyed or damaged 26,000 homes, cutting electricity supplies to nearly all of Manila – a megacity of more than 12 million people – and surrounding urban areas.

Schools and government offices were closed throughout the capital, hundreds of flights suspended and the stock exchange closed.

The stock exchange and government offices re-opened on Thursday, but many schools remained closed partly due to the power problems.

The Manila Electric Company (Meralco), the country’s largest power distributor which serves the capital and surrounding areas, said 1.8 million households still did not have power on Thursday afternoon.

As temperatures soared to 33ºC, Meralco said it did not expect to have power fully restored until late Friday.

Energy Secretary Jericho Petilla also said electricity in the eastern region of Bicol, an impoverished farming area of more than five million where the typhoon first hit, may not return until Tuesday next week.

Manila office worker Karen Luna said her family spent a miserable night at home in Bacoor town adjacent to the capital with no power or tap water supplies.

The neighbourhood used candles overnight and could not log onto the Internet, while food was eaten quickly so it would not waste in the warming fridge, she added.

Across Manila, streets remained littered with fallen trees, branches and electrical posts as repairmen struggled to restore power services.

The Philippines is hit by about 20 major storms a year, many of them deadly. The Southeast Asian archipelago is often the first major landmass to be struck after storms build above the warm Pacific waters.

Rammasun was the first typhoon to make landfall since this year’s rainy season began in June.

It was also the first major storm since Super Typhoon Haiyan devastated the eastern islands of Samar and Leyte in November last year, killing up to 7,300 people in one of the Philippines' worst natural disasters.

Those areas were largely spared from this week’s typhoon.

Rammasun was on Thursday in the South China Sea and tracking towards the southern Chinese island of Hainan, according to the Japan Meteorological Agency.

It forecast Rammasun to build strength again and hit Hainan with wind gusts of 222 kilometres an hour on Friday afternoon.

* Agence France-Presse