Typhoon weakens as it nears Manila
Typhoon Hagupit has weakened into a tropical storm after leaving at least 21 people dead and forcing more than a million into shelters, while sparing most of a central Philippine region still reeling from last year's monster Typhoon Haiyan.
Hagupit made landfall shortly before nightfall local time today in the resort town of San Juan in Batangas province, about 60 miles south of the capital Manila, with maximum sustained winds of 53mph and gusts of 62mph. But a few hours later, Manila was still only experiencing slight winds and light rain.
Forecasters, however, said Hagupit could still generate storm surges that could overwhelm coastal villages. In the capital, police officers were asking people to stay away from a promenade beside Manila Bay for safety reasons.
More than 2,800 villagers moved to emergency shelters in San Juan, a low-lying and flood-prone town popular for its beach resorts, including 220 people huddled inside a gymnasium as torrential rains pounded.
"It's really scary if you've watched what happened during Haiyan," said Amy de Guzman, a 34-year-old mother-of-three who sought refuge in the gymnasium. "I hope the storm blows away from here as far as possible."
While officials expressed relief that the typhoon had not caused major damage in Tacloban and other central cities that were devastated by Haiyan, they warned that it was still barrelling across the southern tip of the main northern island of Luzon, where Manila is located. The storm was expected to blow away tomorrow into the South China Sea.
Hagupit, which first made landfall in Eastern Samar late on Saturday, was moving slowly at 6mph and could dump heavy rain that could possibly trigger landslides and flash floods, according to forecasters.
Many of those in eastern areas who evacuated to shelters started to troop back home after the typhoon had blown past their provinces, Philippine Red Cross secretary-general Gwendolyn Pang said.
Manila mayor Joseph Estrada said more than 5,000 residents of a shanty town on the edge of Manila Bay have been evacuated due to possible storm surges. Sandbags were stacked along a portion of a seawall to prevent possible storm surges in Manila Bay from spilling into a scenic boulevard and a tourist belt of restaurants and hotels.
"We've prepared and trained for this," Mr Estrada said, adding that his greatest fear is widespread flooding. Metropolitan Manila has a population of more than 12 million people.
Like villagers in the central Philippines, Mr Estrada said Manila residents are readily moving to safety because of haunting memories of Haiyan.
The strongest typhoon on record to hit land, Haiyan's tsunami-like storm surges levelled entire villages and left more than 7,300 people dead or missing in November last year.
Hagupit left at least 21 people dead, including 16 villagers who drowned in Eastern Samar province, where the typhoon made its first landfall, according to the Philippine Red Cross.