MANILA (Reuters) – Tens of thousands of people fled coastal villages and landslide-prone areas in the central Philippines on Friday, a day before a powerful typhoon was expected to hit the island nation where thousands were killed in a devastating storm 13 months ago.
Typhoon Hagupit had weakened slightly as it churned slowly across the Pacific and was no longer a category 5 “super typhoon”, the Philippine weather bureau PAGASA said, but was likely to remain destructive when it makes landfall on Saturday.
Ports were shut across the archipelago, leaving more than 2,000 travelers stranded in the capital Manila, the central Bicol region and Mindanao island in the south, after the coastguard suspended sea travel ahead of the typhoon.
Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific canceled some of their flights to central and southern Philippines.
The eastern islands of Samur and Leyte, which are still recovering from last year’s super typhoon Haiyan, could be in the firing line again.
“I am afraid and scared,” said Teresita Aban, a 58-year-old housewife from Sta. Rita, in Samar province, wiping away tears and trembling as she spoke. “We’re prepared but still fearful, we haven’t finished repairing our house, it still has tarpaulin patches and here comes another storm.”
The United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Management in Geneva said 200,000 people had been evacuated in the central island province of Cebu.
“Typhoon Hagupit is triggering one of the largest evacuations we have ever seen in peacetime,” said spokesman Dennis McLean.
The eye of the storm was around 380 km (235 miles) east of Borongan, in Eastern Samar, PAGASA said on Friday afternoon. Cold, dry Siberian winds blowing from the north had sapped some of its strength, but it was still packing winds of up to 195 kph near the center with gusts of up to 215 kph.
“Although we said it has weakened, 195 kph is still very strong…We should not be complacent,” said Landrico Dalida, Jr. acting deputy administrator for operations at PAGASA.
The agency added that the radius of the storm had narrowed slightly to 600 km from 700 km, but said it would still bring torrential rain and 3- to 4-metre storm surges when it slams into Eastern or Northern Samar provinces on Saturday afternoon.
“It won’t be a super typhoon anymore,” said Mario Montejo, the Philippines’ Science and Technology Secretary. “Its weakening is gradual but continuous.”
The weather bureau also said the typhoon had veered slightly north and was approaching eastern coasts at around 10 kph.
Haiyan, one of the strongest typhoons ever to make landfall and known locally as Yolanda, left more than 7,000 dead or missing and more than 4 million homeless or with damaged houses when it tore through the central Philippines in November 2013.
“It’s better to evacuate early…We don’t want to experience what we went through during Yolanda,” said Gigi Calne, a housewife seeking shelter with about 3,000 others at a school in Basey, in Samar province, in central Philippines.
“It was difficult to save our family and ourselves because we moved too late.”
About 10 million residents of the Bicol and Eastern Visayas regions of the central Philippines are at risk of flooding, storm surges and strong winds as Hagupit hits land. AccuWeather Global Weather Center said more than 30 million people would feel the impact of the typhoon across the Philippines.
The weather bureau said 47 provinces in the central Philippines were at risk of strong wind and rains, including Eastern Samar and Leyte, worst-hit by 250 kph winds and storm surges brought by Haiyan. About 25,000 people still live in tents, shelters and bunkhouses more than a year later.
In Tacloban City, Leyte, which accounted for about half of the death toll from Haiyan, about 19,000 people from coastal villages thronged into 26 evacuation centers, said Ildebrando Bernadas of the city’s disaster office.
“We are expecting to double that once we implement forced evacuations,” Bernadas said, adding about 95 percent of residents from coastal areas have been evacuated.
(Additional reporting by Jazmin Bonifacio in Samar, Erik dela Cruz and Neil Jerome Morales in Manila and Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Editing by Alex Richardson)
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