Update: Tropical Storm Hagupit Hits Central Philippines; 21 People Killed

By and Clarissa Batino | December 8, 2014

More than 21 people were killed as heavy rain and winds lashed the central Philippines, while a weakened storm Hagupit headed toward Manila.

The government shut state offices and trading of stocks, bonds and currencies was suspended. Troops were deployed in Manila to help evacuation and relief operations. Schools will stay shut tomorrow in the capital as the storm made its fourth landfall in the early evening in Batangas province, about 90 kilometers (56 miles) south of Manila.

Hagupit, which entered the eastern area of the Philippines as a super typhoon, was downgraded to a tropical storm by the Joint Typhoon Warning Center. The nation’s weather bureau said rain may be moderate to heavy within the storm’s 450-kilometer diameter and floods are a threat in low-lying regions.

At least 21 people were killed in central regions, the Red Cross said, while authorities said the official toll stood at six. Sixteen drowned after water rose in Borongan town in Eastern Samar, the province where Hagupit made landfall, Philippine National Red Cross Secretary-General Gwendolyn Pang said in a mobile-phone message. A baby was hit by tree bark in Western Samar and one person died from a heart attack in Northern Samar.

One Million Evacuated

The government evacuated more than a million people as Hagupit — or “whip” in Filipino — tests the leadership of President Benigno Aquino, who attracted criticism after Super Typhoon Haiyan killed more than 6,200 people in November last year. Initial crop damage was estimated about 385 million pesos ($8.6 million) in eastern Visayas, where the storm first made landfall.

“The government was better prepared and wasn’t caught off guard this time,” BDO Unibank market strategist Jonathan Ravelas said by phone. “Learning from Haiyan, it is also imperative for the government not only to build back better, but to build back better and faster.”

Gales from Hagupit earlier slammed the central Philippines, with more than 30 power lines and transformers damaged in eastern Visayas and southern Luzon, causing power failures, the grid operator said on its website. Roofs were blown off bunkhouses in Tacloban city, Vice Mayor Jerry Yaokasin said by phone. “Our people are worried that this new calamity is going to stall our recovery” from Haiyan, he said.

Rice Imports

Almost 500 homes were destroyed with almost 1,000 damaged, mostly in Samar, Philippine National Red Cross Chairman Richard Gordon told ABS-CBN News Channel.

“It’s too early to say how much damage typhoon Ruby will cause,” central bank Deputy Governor Diwa Guinigundo said, referring to the storm by its local name.

The Philippines may import 600,000 metric tons of rice in early 2015 to boost buffer stocks of the staple grain, National Food Authority Administrator Renan Dalisay told reporters today.

The Philippines was the nation most affected by weather- related events last year, according to Germanwatch’s global climate risk index, citing absolute losses at $24.5 billion, or 3.8 percent of gross domestic product. Haiyan alone caused more than $13 billion in economic damage, it said. U.K. research company Maplecroft ranks the Philippines second to Japan for being at-risk from tropical storms.

Soldiers Deployed

About a thousand soldiers have been deployed in the capital, Armed Forces Chief of Staff General Gregorio Pio Catapang told reporters.

With houses destroyed, people are expected to stay longer in evacuation centers and the government must increase its management of the camps and dispersal of food, Interior Secretary Mar Roxas said in a televised briefing from Eastern Samar, the first province to be hit by the storm.

A one-month old boy and a 62-year-old man died from illnesses in an evacuation center in Leyte province in Visayas, police Superintendent Edgardo Esmero said by phone. In Iloilo, also in Visayas islands, a 1-year-old girl and a 65-year-old man died from hypothermia, according to a civil defense unit report. Two people died in Cebu province, according to its civil defense office.

“It’s a really serious situation in the evacuation centers,” Jennifer MacCann, World Vision’s operation director for the typhoon response, said by e-mail. “Many of the families don’t know when they can return home and what they will find once they get there.”

Electricity Outages

Hagupit brought gusts of as much as 65 knots (120 kilometers per hour), according to the Joint Typhoon Warning Center, which forecast the storm to track within 81 nautical miles of Manila before crossing into the South China Sea and curving southwest toward Vietnam.

Sixteen provinces are without electricity, according to the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council. Globe Telecom Inc. and Smart Communications Inc. networks were down in some parts of Leyte and eastern Samar, it said.

Philippine Airlines Inc. canceled 66 domestic flights today and expects to cancel 13 tomorrow, it said in an e-mailed statement.

As many as 12.9 million people may be affected by Hagupit, the United Nations’ Global Disaster Alert and Coordination System said on its website.

“So far, the reports that we have been getting are quite encouraging,” Aquino spokeswoman Abigail Valte said in a briefing in Manila. “Strong wind caused damage to properties in some areas. The good news is that many were saved because they followed the rules on evacuation.”

In Manila, billboards were rolled down and sandbags were placed on the sea wall of Manila Bay, with the capital under the second-lowest alert in a four-scale storm warning system.

–With assistance from Siegfrid Alegado, Ditas Lopez and Norman P. Aquino in Manila.

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