Scores flee as Christ­mas typhoon hits Philip­pines

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

MANILA: A pow­er­ful typhoon slammed into the eastern Philip­pines on Christ­mas Day, spoil­ing the big­gest hol­i­day in Asia’s largest Catholic na­tion, where a gov­er­nor of­fered roast pig to en­tice vil­lagers to aban­don fam­ily cel­e­bra­tions for emer­gency shel­ters. Typhoon Nock-Ten was pack­ing max­i­mum sus­tained winds of 185 kilo­me­ters (114 miles) per hour and gusts of up to 255 kph (158 mph) when it made land­fall Sun­day night in Catan­d­u­anes prov­ince, where fierce winds and rain knocked down the is­land’s power and com­mu­ni­ca­tions, weather fore­cast­ers said.

There were no im­me­di­ate re­ports of in­juries. Af­ter Catan­d­u­anes, the typhoon, which had a 500-kilo­me­ter (300-mile) rain band, was ex­pected to barge west­ward across the moun­tain­ous south­ern plank of the Philip­pines’ main is­land of Lu­zon and blow close to the cap­i­tal, Manila, on Mon­day, be­fore start­ing to exit to­ward the South China Sea. Nock-Ten may weaken af­ter hit­ting the Sierra Madre moun­tain range in south­ern Lu­zon.

Heavy rain­fall, de­struc­tive winds and bat­ter­ing waves were threat­en­ing heav­ily pop­u­lated ru­ral and ur­ban re­gions, where the Philip­pine weather agency raised typhoon warn­ings, strand­ing thou­sands of peo­ple in ports as air­lines can­celed flights and fer­ries were pre­vented from sail­ing. Of­fi­cials warned of storm surges in coastal vil­lages, flash floods and land­slides, and asked vil­lagers to evac­u­ate to safer grounds. Christ­mas is the big­gest hol­i­day in the Philip­pines, which has Asia’s largest Ro­man Catholic pop­u­la­tion, mak­ing it dif­fi­cult for of­fi­cials to get peo­ple’s at­ten­tion to heed the warn­ings. With many re­fus­ing to leave high-risk com­mu­ni­ties, some of­fi­cials said they de­cided to carry out forced evac­u­a­tions.

In the past 65 years, seven ty­phoons have struck the Philip­pines on Christ­mas Day, ac­cord­ing to the govern­ment’s weather agency. Gov. Miguel Vil­la­fuerte of Ca­marines Sur prov­ince, which is in the typhoon’s ex­pected path, of­fered roast pig, a pop­u­lar Christ­mas del­i­cacy lo­cally called “le­chon,” in evac­u­a­tion cen­ters to en­tice vil­lagers to move to emer­gency shel­ters.

“I know it’s Christ­mas ... but this is a le­git typhoon,” Vil­la­fuerte tweeted on Christ­mas Eve.

“Please evac­u­ate, we’ll be hav­ing le­chon at evac­u­a­tion cen­ters.” Ca­marines Sur of­fi­cials had tar­geted about 50,000 fam­i­lies some 250,000 peo­ple - for evac­u­a­tion by Satur­day night, but the num­ber of those who re­sponded was ini­tially far be­low ex­pec­ta­tions.

In Catan­d­u­anes prov­ince, Vice Gov. Shirley Abundo said she or­dered a forced evac­u­a­tion of vil­lagers, say­ing some “are re­ally hard-headed, they don’t want to leave their houses be­cause it’s Christ­mas.”

“We need to do this by force, we need to evac­u­ate them now,” she told ABS-CBN tele­vi­sion. The Depart­ment of So­cial Wel­fare and De­vel­op­ment, which helps over­see govern­ment re­sponse dur­ing dis­as­ters, said only about 4,200 peo­ple were re­ported to have moved to six evac­u­a­tion cen­ters by Sun­day morn­ing in the Bi­col re­gion, which in­cludes Ca­marines Sur. “It’s dif­fi­cult to force cel­e­bra­tions when our lives will be put at risk. Please pri­or­i­tize safety and take heed of warn­ings by lo­cal govern­ment units,” wel­fare of­fi­cial Felino Cas­tro told The As­so­ci­ated Press by phone.


Food, wa­ter and other emer­gency sup­plies had been pre-po­si­tioned in ar­eas ex­pected to be lashed by the typhoon, Cas­tro said. His depart­ment was to ac­ti­vate an emer­gency clus­ter com­pris­ing the mil­i­tary, po­lice, coast guard and other agen­cies Sun­day to over­see dis­as­ter-re­sponse plans.

In the farm­ing town of Guino­batan in Al­bay prov­ince, which is near Nock-Ten’s path, more than 17,600 vil­lagers moved to evac­u­a­tion shel­ters with­out hes­i­ta­tion be­cause of fears of a re­peat of a typhoon sev­eral years ago that un­leashed smol­der­ing mud­flows from nearby Mayon Vol­cano, leav­ing hun­dreds dead, the town’s mayor, Ann Ongjoco, said by phone. Jose­fina Nao, who evac­u­ated to a Guino­batan school with her six chil­dren, grand­chil­dren and sib­lings, said that yes­ter­day was one of her bleak­est Christ­mas hol­i­days, but that poor peo­ple like her did not have much choice. She said it was tough to repli­cate Christ­mas away from home, adding that town of­fi­cials tried to cheer evac­uees by dis­tribut­ing hol­i­day food such as spaghetti.

“We live in a flood-prone com­mu­nity near a river where many had been swept to their deaths by flood­wa­ters dur­ing ty­phoons,” the 60-year-old Nao said by phone from a class­room-turned-storm shel­ter that was void of any Christ­mas lights or dec­o­ra­tions. “I wish it was a mer­rier Christ­mas, but this is our best op­tion be­cause we’ll all be safe to­gether.”

About 20 ty­phoons and storms, mostly from the Pa­cific, lash the Philip­pines each year, mak­ing the poor coun­try of more than 100 mil­lion peo­ple one of the most dis­as­ter-prone in the world. In Novem­ber 2013, Typhoon Haiyan struck the cen­tral Philip­pines with fe­ro­cious power, leav­ing more than 7,300 peo­ple dead or miss­ing and dis­plac­ing more than 5 mil­lion af­ter lev­el­ing en­tire vil­lages de­spite days of dire warn­ings by govern­ment of­fi­cials. —AP

MANILA: Res­i­dents are as­sisted into a truck af­ter the lo­cal govern­ment im­ple­mented pre­emp­tive evac­u­a­tions at Barangay Matnog, Daraga, Al­bay prov­ince yes­ter­day due to the ap­proach­ing typhoon Nock-Ten. —AFP

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