As Hagupit weakens to a tropical storm, authorities in the Philippines have reassessed the damage wrought in the archipelago's east, sharply revising the death toll. The storm is now headed toward the capital, Manila.
In Manila, a city of 12 million people, schools, government offices and the financial markets were closed and commercial flights canceled as residents continued to await the tropical storm, downgraded from a typhoon since Sunday. Hagupit has taken aim at Luzon, just south of the capital, where it will bring winds of 85 kilometers per hour (50 mph) and gusts approaching 100 kph. As the storm continues its 10 kph approach, officials have revised the death toll, initially thought to be just four people after the weekend.
"We now have a total of 27 dead, most of them in Borongan, Eastern Samar," said Richard Gordon, chairman of the Philippine Red Cross. He said most of the dead had drowned in floodwaters. Gordon added that Hagupit had totally or partially destroyed 2,500 houses in Borongan, a town of 64,000 people.
Other agencies estimate 21-24 deaths since Hagupit began battering the Philippines after making landfall as a Category 3 storm with 210 kph winds Saturday in the archipelago's east, downing power and telephone lines, ripping off roofs and flattening homes. Residents in the east have begun returning home to survey the damage caused by the most powerful storm to hit the Philippines this year.
'It is sad'
Despite the rising toll, many remain relieved that Hagupit, "lash" in Tagalog, hasn't turned into a repeat of Haiyan, which killed more than 7,300 people last year in the central Philippines. Taking lessons from that storm, the authorities had launched a massive evacuation operation ahead of the storm, emptying whole towns and villages in coastal and landslide-prone areas.
"We saw that with preparation and being alert we prevented tragedy and harm," Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas told a government disaster meeting in Samar on Monday. "We took our countrymen away from harm. It is sad to hear news of deaths, but this is very low, way below what the potential was."
Still, all of the central Philippines have felt Hagupit‘s effects, including Leyte island and southern Luzon. Orla Fagan, spokeswoman and advocacy officer for the Asia-Pacific region at the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) praised efforts by authorities to alert remote communities to the approaching danger.
"They're on the game this time," Fagan said Monday. "They have taken all of the lessons from Haiyan."
Scientists say tropical storms have become more violent and unpredictable because of climate change.
mkg/mg (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)