EXTREME WEATHER

Super typhoon smashes northern Philippines, heads towards China

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 20 October, 2016, 9:57am
UPDATED : Thursday, 20 October, 2016, 10:19pm

Super Typhoon Haima weakened and blew out to sea Thursday after smashing the northern Philippines with ferocious wind and rain overnight. Flooding, landslides and power outages were evident, but large casualties appeared to have been averted after nearly 100,000 people fled to safer ground.

Haima’s blinding winds and rain had rekindled fears of the catastrophe wrought by Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, but there were no immediate reports of any major damage. Several villages are cut off by fallen trees, landslides and floods, impeding communications and aid.

At least seven people were killed in the storm, officials said. But the evacuations from high-risk communities helped prevent a larger number of casualties.

Two construction workers died when a landslide buried their shanty in La Trinidad town in the mountain province of Benguet, officials said, while two villagers perished in another landslide and another was swept away in a river and remains missing in Ifugao province, near Benguet. A 70-year-old man died apparently of a heart attack in an emergency shelter while another man died after being pinned by a fallen tree in Isabela province. One other typhoon-related death was reported in northern Ilocos region but details were not immediately available.

Haima, with sustained winds of 225 kph, hit northeastern Cagayan province late Wednesday then barrelled northwestward before blowing out into the South China Sea with sustained winds of 150 kph and gusts of up to 185 kph , according to forecasters.

Although weakening, the typhoon was expected to come close to Hong Kong.

After dawn, the extent of damage in Cagayan — about 500 kilometres north of Manila — and nearby regions became evident, with overturned vans, toppled or leaning electric posts and debris blocking roads. Most stores, their window panes shattered and canopies shredded by the wind, were close.

In northern Ilocos Sur province, rice fields resembled brown lakes under waist-high floodwaters, although clean-up operations had started.

“Search, rescue and retrieval operations are ongoing,” Office of Civil Defence administrator Ricardo Jalad said in a statement.

The region is still recovering from a typhoon last weekend that killed two people and displaced tens of thousands of villagers.

President Rodrigo Duterte said on Wednesday night all possible preparations had been made for Haima, with tens of thousands of people evacuated, but he still struck an ominous tone.

“We only pray we be spared the destruction such as the previous times, which brought agony and suffering,” Duterte said in Beijing, where he was on a state visit.

“But we are ready. Everything has been deployed.”

The Philippine islands are often the first major landmass to be hit by storms that generate over the Pacific Ocean. The Southeast Asian archipelago endures about 20 major storms each year, many of them deadly.

The most powerful and deadliest was Haiyan, which destroyed entire towns in heavily populated areas of the central Philippines.

The capital of Manila is about 350 kilometres south of where Haima struck land.

However the city, with about 12 million people, was not affected, hit only by moderate winds overnight and little rain.

Haima was the second typhoon to hit the northern Philippines in a week, after Sarika struck on Sunday claiming at least one life and leaving three people missing.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse