8 ferry crewmen still missing as storm leaves archipelago
LIGAO, Philippines: A powerful typhoon left at least four people dead and eight missing as it crossed the Philippine archipelago yesterday, spoiling the Christmas holidays with strong winds, heavy rains and destructive flooding. Nock-Ten made landfall on the eastern island province of Catanduanes with gusts of 235 kilometres (146 miles) an hour on Christmas Day, ravaging the Bicol region and surrounding areas before moving west across the country. A couple perished in a flood while an elderly man was crushed to death by a falling wall, the governor of Albay province, Al Bichara, told local media. Another person was killed and two more were injured when the storm toppled a power line in Quezon province, electrocuting them, a police report said.
An anchored ferry went down off the coastal province of Batangas yesterday with eight crewmen still missing, said coastguard officer Joy Villegas. Two people also died after suffering heart attacks during the storm but it was unclear if those deaths were directly related to the typhoon, local government reports said.
More than 383,000 people were forced to flee their homes while over 80 domestic and international flights were cancelled due to the storm, the civil defence office said. The coastguard on Sunday ordered beaches south of Manila to be cleared of holidaymakers by yesterday.
The unusually late storm cut off electricity to millions and forced government agencies to order evacuations of whole communities in Bicol, marring the traditional Christmas celebrations in this largely Christian nation.
In the Bicol town of Ligao, many streets and surrounding farms were covered by ankle-deep water while some homes remained caked in mud left by flooding. Masseuse Erna Angela Pintor, 20, said she and her family spent a sleepless Christmas in fear as the strong winds ripped off part of their roof.
Neighbours living near a river sought refuge in their home as the waters rose to their chests, she said, though her own family was luckier.
“The floods (last night) only reached to our knees. Thank goodness the current wasn’t that strong,” she told AFP. “This was supposed to be a celebration but we cannot celebrate. This is a sad Christmas for us. No one (in the family) died but a lot of our neighbours’ homes were washed away.”
The disaster monitoring council said more than 12,000 people spent Christmas stuck at ports after authorities barred ferries from sailing due to the storm.
The council’s spokeswoman Mina Marasigan also said hundreds of people in Bicol celebrated Christmas in evacuation centres where many had to make do with emergency food packs.
Some local officials had offered roast pigs-the traditional Filipino holiday fare-to entice people to go to the shelters, Marasigan said.
By late yesterday afternoon the typhoon had weakened, with wind gusts of 180 kilometres per hour, and was in the South China Sea heading west away from the country, government weather forecaster Gener Quitlong said. Nock-Ten had been expected to bring heavy rains and winds to Manila, but the city of 13 million residents was spared after the typhoon lost force as it crossed the eastern islands.
“It was like a blessing in disguise. Every time it hit land, its diameter lessened. It also lost moisture so it became weaker,” Quitlong told AFP. Some 20 typhoons and storms strike the Philippines each year, routinely killing hundreds of people. Huge tsunami-like waves devastated the city of Tacloban and nearby areas when super typhoon Haiyan struck the central Philippines in November 2013, leaving 7,350 people dead or missing. – AFP