As a weakening Typhoon Hagupit inched its way across the Philippine archipelago Sunday, some parts of the country were still bracing for its arrival while others were recovering from the storm’s passing fury.
At least three people were reported dead from storm-related injuries, but a massive evacuation effort, reportedly sending at least 900,000 people to shelters, appears to have helped keep the toll relatively low. The Philippines had been determined to avoid the cataclysm it suffered last year in Typhoon Haiyan, which left more than 7,300 people dead or missing.
“We were so glad we were spared,” said Pel Tecson, the mayor of Tanauan, in Leyte province, which was devastated by Typhoon Haiyan. Despite powerful winds from Hagupit, he said, there were “zero casualties and zero looting and minimal damage” in the city – in part because so many people heeded orders to evacuate to storm shelters.
FOR THE RECORD
An earlier version of this story identified the mayor of Tanauan as Tel Pecson. His name is Pel Tecson.
“Haiyan was the best teacher of all,” said the country's welfare secretary, Dinky Soliman. “People did not need much convincing to move to safety. In fact, many of them volunteered to go.”
Hagupit first made landfall Saturday night on the eastern island of Samar, where some of the worst damage was sustained during Haiyan. By Sunday morning, the storm had hit the central island province of Masbate. Traveling very slowly at about 6 mph, the typhoon was next expected to land on the northeastern area of Mindoro island sometime Monday night.
The typhoon’s size and strength has fluctuated, but just before midnight Sunday it was packing maximum sustained winds of about 85 mph, with gusts of up to 105 mph, according to the Philippine state weather bureau. Hours later, it was downgraded to a tropical storm.
Although the typhoon is not expected to directly hit Manila, the country’s capital, intense rain was expected and the government canceled school and ordered government offices closed as a precaution, and began some evacuations in the region Sunday night.
Two people, including a baby girl, died of hypothermia in central Iloilo province Saturday at the height of the typhoon, the Associated Press reported, citing Alexander Pama of the country’s disaster response agency. Another person was killed by a falling tree in the eastern town of Dolores, where the typhoon first made landfall, according to Interior Secretary Mar Roxas.
Some areas lost communications, so it was impossible to fully assess the extent of damage and loss of life.
"You could really feel the fury of the wind," Raul Banias, provincial administrator for Iloilo, told The Times. "Many trees that survived Yolanda fell," he said, using another name for Haiyan. But there wasn't as much damage to houses because many houses destroyed by Haiyan have yet to be rebuilt, he said, and those that have been rebuilt used "typhoon-resilient designs."
Now, Banias said, officials' greatest concern is reaching people on nearby small islands, who are in evacuation centers that have not received deliveries of food since Saturday.
"The sea is choppy and dangerous so we are not allowed to deploy our sea assets," he said.
Local media reported that officials in Sorsagon, an area on the southern tip of Luzon island where huge waves slammed against the shore, were still trying to locate 700 families in one coastal community that had been cut off from communication.
Widespread destruction was reported in Masbate, where strong winds and rain flattened houses, toppled trees and power lines and caused landslides in some areas, according to local media. About 100,000 people there sought shelter in 300 evacuation centers.
Father Rex Paul Arjona, a Catholic priest, watched the typhoon from an elevated house overlooking Legaspi city, about 60 miles from Masbate. As of Sunday morning, he said, the area still had choppy communication and no power.
“There was lots of wind and rain but so far no untoward incidents,” he said. “We are waiting for reports of flooding, but so far it’s just minor.”
In Tacloban, which is still rebuilding after being devastated by Typhoon Haiyan, Mayor Alfred Romualdez said his administration had learned from the lessons of that storm, one of the most powerful to ever make landfall.
He suspended classes and work beginning Thursday, and said that 95% of the people in especially vulnerable coastal communities were relocated to evacuation centers. Rescue and debris clearance vehicles were moved to areas safe from storm surges.
As the storm passed Sunday, 40,000 people remained in evacuation centers in Tacloban.
At a Sunday morning news conference, officials with the national Department of Social Welfare and Development said 20 trucks had been loaded with food and would be delivered to needy areas around the country as soon as roads are passable. Later Sunday, Soliman said the agency may begin food deliveries using C130 cargo planes on Monday if weather permits.
De Leon is a special correspondent.