Past lessons avoid typhoon disaster
Typhoon Hagupit knocked out power in coastal provinces, mowed down trees and sent more than 650,000 people into shelters as it roared through the Philippines, but lessons from last year's disaster seem to have avoided mass deaths.
Hagupit slammed into Eastern Samar province in the central Philippines then lost strength as it barrelled westward across a string of island provinces. It was packing maximum sustained winds of 87 mph and gusts of 106 mph, considerably weaker from its peak power, but still a potentially deadly storm, according to forecasters.
Traumatised by Typhoon Haiyan's massive death and destruction last year in the central region that is being partly whipped by Hagupit, more than 650,000 people readily fled to about 1,000 emergency shelters and safer ground. The government, backed by the 120,000-strong military, launched massive preparations to attain a zero-casualty target.
Nearly a dozen countries led by the United States and the European Union have pledged to help in case of a catastrophe, disaster response agency chief Alexander Pama said.
Authorities were verifying reports of some deaths but none had been confirmed so far, Mr Pama said.
While authorities have expressed relief so far, they were quick to warn that Hagupit - Filipino for "smash" or "lash" - was still on course to barrel across three major central islands before starting to blow away into the South China Sea on Tuesday.
Several typhoon-lashed eastern villages isolated by downed telephone and power lines were out of contact, welfare secretary Dinky Soliman said.
"It's too early to tell," Philippine Red Cross secretary general Gwendolyn Pang said. "Let's cross our fingers that it will stay that way. It's too close to Christmas."
In Tacloban city, where Haiyan's tsunami-like storm surges and killer winds left thousands of people dead and destroyed entire villages, no deaths were reported after it was grazed by Hagupit.
Television footage showed shallow floods, damaged shanties and ripped off store signs and tin roofs, but the city of more than 200,000 people, which earned the pity of the world after last year's devastation, appeared to have escaped any major damage.
Rhea Estuna, a 29-year-old mother of one, fled to a Tacloban evacuation centre as early as Thursday and waited in fear as Hagupit's wind and rains lashed the school, where she and her family sought refuge. When she peered outside today, she said she saw a starkly different aftermath compared to the horror of Haiyan's aftermath.
"There were no bodies scattered on the road, no big mounds of debris," Ms Estuna said. "Thanks to God this typhoon wasn't as violent."
Army troops deployed to supermarkets and major roads in provinces in the typhoon's path to prevent looting and chaos and clear debris, all of which slowed the government's response last year.
Unlike in past years, many people readily left high-risk communities now, Mr Soliman said.
"Haiyan was the best teacher of all," hen said. "People did not need much convincing to move to safety. In fact many of them volunteered to go."
EU commissioner for humanitarian aid Christos Stylianides said a team of experts would be deployed to help assess the damage and needed response.
"The Philippines are not alone as they brace up for a possible hardship," he said, adding the European Commission was "hoping that the impact will be less powerful than a year ago when Typhoon Haiyan left a devastating imprint on the country".