By Rosemarie Francisco and Manuel Mogato
A typhoon killed at least 10 people as it churned across the Philippines and shut down the capital, cutting power and prompting the evacuation of more than 400,000 residents, rescue officials said.
The eye of Typhoon Rammasun, the strongest storm to hit the country this year, passed south of Manila after cutting a path across the main island of Luzon, toppling trees and power lines and causing electrocutions and widespread blackouts.
By Wednesday evening, the storm was easing in the capital and markets and public offices were due to reopen on Thursday. Some schools were to remain closed.
Manila Electric Company said 76 percent of the area it serves was without power, compared with 86 percent earlier in the day.
“Our weather is improving as the typhoon is moving further away,” Rene Paciente of the weather bureau said, adding storm alerts in various part of the country were lifted or lowered.
The number of evacuated residents had reached 409,000, Wilma Cabrera, the Social Welfare Assistant Secretary, told Reuters.
Many of those forced from their homes were in the eastern province of Albay, the first to be hit by the typhoon, the disaster agency said. They were taken to schools, gymnasiums and town halls for shelter.
Officials said 460,000 had been affected by the storm.
Major roads across Luzon were blocked by debris, fallen trees, electricity poles and tin roofs ripped off village houses. The storm uprooted trees in the capital, where palm trees lining major arteries were bent over by the wind as broken hoardings bounced down the streets.
Public Works and Highways Secretary Rogelio Singson and Admiral Alexander Pama, the executive director of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, surveyed the typhoon-affected areas by helicopter.
“I am happily surprised because of the minimal casualties and damage,” Singson said, adding the typhoon had passed through the most populated area of the country, with about 17 million people living in its path.
Singson and Pama said the government was more prepared after the devastation caused by Super Typhoon Haiyan in November, evacuating people at risk in coastal and landslide-prone areas well before the typhoon made landfall.
Parts of the Philippines are still recovering from Haiyan, one of the biggest cyclones known to have made landfall anywhere. It killed more than 6,100 in the central provinces, many in tsunami-like sea surges, and left millions homeless.
Tropical Storm Risk, which monitors cyclones, downgraded Rammasun to a category-one storm on a scale of one to five as it headed northwest into the South China Sea. Haiyan was category five. A category-one storm has maximum sustained winds of 95 mph (153 kph)
But it predicted Rammasun would gain in strength to category-three within a couple of days, picking up energy from the warm sea as it heads for the Chinese island of Hainan.
TACLOBAN HIT AGAIN
The storm brought sea surges to Manila Bay and prompted disaster officials to evacuate slum-dwellers on the capital’s outskirts.
Rhea Catada, who works for Oxfam in Tacloban, which suffered the brunt of Haiyan, said thousands of people in tents and coastal villages had been moved to higher ground.
“They are scared because their experiences during Haiyan last year are still fresh,” she said. “Now they are evacuating voluntarily and leaving behind their belongings.”
Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman said 5,335 families, or nearly 27,000 people, had been affected in Tacloban. Some had returned to the Astrodome, where thousands sought shelter and dozens drowned during storm surges in the November disaster.
A woman of 25 was killed when she was hit by a falling electricity pole as Rammasun hit the east coast on Tuesday, the disaster agency said. A pregnant woman was killed when a house wall collapsed in Lucena City south of Manila.
Nearly 400 flights were grounded during a four-hour closure of Manila airport. Two airliners suffered minor damage when gusts blew them into nearby obstacles, airport officials said.
Train services in the capital were suspended because of the lack of power. Ferry services were suspended, including to the holiday island of Boracay where 300 tourists were stranded.