Dec 4, 2012

Philippines - Typhoon Bopha smashes into Philippines

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MANILA: Typhoon Bopha smashed into the southern Philippines Tuesday, uprooting trees and bringing drenching rains as more than 40,000 people crammed into shelters to escape the storm's onslaught.

Bopha -- packing gusts of up to 210 kilometres (130 miles) an hour -- made landfall on Mindanao's east coast at dawn, raking across the island of 10 million people.

It uprooted trees and blew off roofs made of light materials, according to residents and AFP reporters on the ground, with cities plunged into darkness after authorities cut power supplies.

There were no immediate reports of casualties or serious damage but the island was in lockdown, with residents of coastal and flood-prone areas moving into shelters as floods hit some areas.

Aviation and shipping were suspended, with 80 flights grounded and thousands of ferry passengers stranded as the coastguard ordered vessels to stay in port, the civil defence office said.

More than 41,000 people had moved into nearly 1,000 government shelters across the island by early Tuesday, it said in its latest bulletin.

Large parts of Mindanao were without power after supplies were shut down to cut the risk of fires and electrocutions, according to Liza Mazo, regional civil defence official.

"Power was lost before dawn. There were reports of powerful winds, high waves and possible storm surge threatening some coastal areas," she said.

"We are hoping and praying that there will be no casualties."

People living in the storm-hit area braced for the worst of the typhoon, the strongest cyclone to hit the Philippines this year.

"We have taken our pigs and chickens inside our house because their shed might be destroyed," 46-year-old shopkeeper Marianita Villamor of San Fermin town on Mindanao's east coast told AFP by telephone.

"The winds were howling and I could hear the trees falling to the ground since early this morning."

Villamor said her relatives who lived in a nearby coastal area had joined hundreds of other families who moved into temporary shelters including schools and other government buildings late Monday.

"I have not heard from then since because (mobile phone) signals have been on and off," she said. "I hope they are dry and safe."

The commercial centre of Cagayan de Oro, one of Mindanao's largest cities, was hit by flooding as rivers overflowed following heavy rain.

Schools were shut in Mindanao and across large areas of the central Philippines.

President Benigno Aquino led calls for evacuations on Monday, saying: "(Bopha's) destructive potential is no laughing matter. It is expected to be the strongest typhoon to hit our country in 2012."

The Philippines is battered by about 20 typhoons a year, some of them destructive. Bopha is the sixteenth so far this year.

In August, nearly 100 people were killed and more than a million were displaced by heavy flooding caused by a series of storms.

Nineteen typhoons struck the country last year, of which 10 were destructive, leading to more than 1,500 deaths and affecting nearly 10 per cent of the total population, according to the government.

- AFP/fa/ck

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