Philippines braces as monster Typhoon Hagupit nears coast
Thousands of people in the Philippines sought shelter in churches, schools and other makeshift evacuation centres on Friday as monster Typhoon Hagupit bore down on the disaster-weary nation.
The storm, which would be the strongest to hit the country this year, is forecast to impact eastern provinces devastated by Super Typhoon Haiyan last year although there are conflicting projections from various weather agencies over its direct path.
People across the Southeast Asian archipelago were heeding government warnings to make early preparations as the state weather agency Pagasa said the typhoon was expected to generate winds of 215 kilometres (133 miles) an hour and giant storm surges.
Communities in the eastern Philippines that are yet to recover from Haiyan, the most powerful storm ever recorded on land which killed more than 7,350 people in November last year, were warned they could be among the first hit.
In Tacloban, a major city in the eastern Philippines where many buildings still lie in rubble after being destroyed in Haiyan, hundreds of people sheltered in a sports stadium on Friday.
“We’ve learned our lesson from Yolanda (Haiyan),” Rita Villadolid, 39, told AFP as she sat inside the stadium with her family.
“Everyone here is gripped with fear.”
Elsewhere in Tacloban, hundreds of people sheltered in churches and schools, some of the sturdiest buildings in the city while wealthier residents checked into hotels.
Similar preparations were occurring across the country, after the government warned Hagupit’s weather pattern was 700 kilometres wide and would affect 55 of the nation’s 85 provinces.
There was also confusion as to where the eye of the typhoon would pass, with Pagasa and various foreign government typhoon monitoring agencies projecting different paths.
Pagasa predicted the worst of the typhoon would hit the eastern provinces of Samar and Leyte, which were the most badly damaged during Haiyan, then cut across the central Philippines.
But the US Navy’s Joint Typhoon Warning Center predicted it would travel slightly north of Samar, then cut west and pass directly over Manila, the nation’s capital with a population of more than 12 million people.
The US agency on Friday downgraded Hagupit from the maximum super typhoon category to typhoon status, reporting its wind strength had weakened from Haiyan-like 300 kilometres an hour to about 230 kilometres an hour.
Still, this would make the Hagupit the strongest typhoon to hit the Philippines this year.
The previous strongest was Rammasun, which killed more than 100 people when it cut across Manila and other parts of the main island of Luzon in July.
The Philippines is often the first major landmass hit by typhoons and major tropical storms that are created in the Pacific Ocean. It endures about 20 major storms a year, many of them deadly.