Evacuations help limit human toll of Typhoon Hagupit in the Philippines

Heavy rain continues to lash the capital as Hagupit is downgraded to tropical storm
Evacuations help limit human toll of Typhoon Hagupit in the Philippines

Villagers hold a religious procession in the town of Taft, Eastern Samar province, after Typhoon Hagupit left the province on Monday (photo by Vincent Go)

As Typhoon Hagupit lashed the Philippines with strong winds and heavy rains, at least a million people fled their homes in what has been described by international aid agency Oxfam as "one of the world’s largest peacetime evacuations".

Meteorologist Eric Leister of independent forecasting agency AccuWeather estimated that some 30 million people would be affected by the typhoon as it continued to move across the country on Monday.

The Philippine National Red Cross said at least 24 people — 21 from Eastern Samar province — died in the typhoon, which has been downgraded into a tropical storm as it approached the national capital Manila on Monday evening.

Hagupit made landfall in Dolores town, Eastern Samar province, with sustained winds of up to 241km per hour, the equivalent of a Category 4 hurricane, on Saturday.

AccuWeather warned that heavy rains would continue to produce "dramatic flooding" in parts of Luzon, including Metro Manila. 

"Some places are likely to have over 20 inches of rainfall because of the slow nature of the storm," said meteorologist Matthew Rinde.

Justin Morgan, Philippine country director of Oxfam, said the government's pre-emptive evacuation saved many lives. 

"The Philippine government has just led one of the world’s largest peacetime evacuations across hazard-prone areas in the typhoon’s projected path," Morgan said in a statement.

He said, however, that "depending on the extent of the damage on their homes, hundreds of thousands of displaced communities will need support in the next few days or weeks," adding that evacuation centers could be overstretched and would result in health and sanitation issues. 

Major Emmanuel Garcia, commander of the military’s 7th Civil Relations Group, said a US aircraft conducted a survey of affected areas in the central Philippines and found that there was "no major damage on structures".

"They conducted the survey and they provided us with the initial assessment.... There are many bended tree, there were less numbers of fallen trees unlike before [during Haiyan]," Garcia said.

The government on Monday assured that "ample emergency funds" would be available for those affected by the disaster. 

"The current year's budget can fully support emergency operations as they're needed," said Budget Secretary Florencio Abad. 

"The Administration isn't acting alone here. Aid organizations, citizen groups and ordinary Filipinos are all pitching in so we can weather this latest calamity," Abad said.

The Catholic Church’s social action arm on Saturday launched a "solidarity appeal" to help areas affected by Hagupit.

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Archbishop Rolando Tria Tirona, chairman of the National Secretariat for Social Action, said the Church's emergency funds are not enough considering the vast scope of the typhoon.

"To the unaffected dioceses, we call on you to organize relief operations to the affected dioceses nearest you," Tirona said. 

In the village of Duca in Barugo town in Leyte province, a storm surge washed away at least 13 houses.

"All our people here are saved, including our farm animals and pets," village leader Genelyne Sanoria told ucanews.com. Sanoria said all 300 families in the village fled inland days before the typhoon made landfall.

In Metro Manila, government workers were placed on "heightened alert status" as Hagupit was scheduled to hit the capital Monday night.

"Various rescue teams are on standby. Everyone is preparing," said Alexander Pama, head of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council. He said "preemptive evacuation of residents" was already done.

"The prediction is the rain will be intense to heavy," he said, adding that authorities were monitoring floodwaters. 

"We know the drill. We are giving advance warning to the people, especially those in the flood-prone areas," Pama said, warning that "there’s a possibility of flooding here in Metro Manila."

Storm signal number 3 is currently hoisted over the National Capital Region, which has a population of 12 million people.

The state weather bureau Pagasa said Hagupit is expected to leave the Philippine Area of Responsibility on Wednesday evening.

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