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Thousands flee as deadly Typhoon Koppu hits northern Philippines

Jay Directo, AFP | A fisherman sits in front of his outrigger boat on the coast of Manila Bay on October 18, 2015, after the Philippine coast guard banned sailing in the aftermath of Typhoon Koppu.

Powerful Typhoon Koppu wrecked houses, tore down trees and unleashed landslides and floods, killing at least 16 people and forcing thousands to flee as it pummeled the northern Philippines on Sunday, officials said.

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Officials fear the death toll may rise after Typhoon Koppu tore through the main island of Luzon leaving several remote towns and villages isolated due to flash floods and toppled trees and boulders blocking roads. Power was down in many areas.

The fatalities included seven people who died when a ferry capsized, three residents in Luzon and a boy in the capital of Manila who was struck by a falling tree, local and national authorities said.

Nearly 183,000 people felt the impact of the typhoon, of whom more than 65,000 had been evacuated from low-lying and landslide-prone areas, the country’s national disaster agency said.

The storm, downgraded to a category 1 typhoon from category 4, was moving slowly north on Monday and was forecast to weaken to a tropical storm within hours.

“The problem here is that water is still rising in certain areas. Despite the fact winds have died down a bit, there are a lot of people trapped in their homes, a lot of people who are having up to their roofs,” Dean Bernardo, FRANCE 24’s correspondent in Manila, reported.

“Rescue operations are still ongoing with speed boats being deployed. There are thousands of people asking for assistance right now.”

Roofs torn off, roads blocked

Koppu made landfall before dawn on the coast of Casiguran, a remote fishing town of 31,000 people, remaining near-stationary for seven hours and whipping the area with gusts of up to 210 kilometres (130 miles) an hour.

"Koppu tore off roofs of homes made of light materials. Rivers overflowed and the roads to the area are blocked by downed power pylons and trees," Nigel Lontoc, the deputy civil defence director for the region, told reporters.

Widespread power and communications disruptions were reported across Luzon, with many roads and bridges also blocked by landslides, floods or fallen trees and power lines.

Ferry services across Luzon were suspended amid rough seas while commercial aviation was also disrupted with 30 flights cancelled, two of them on international routes.

A hospital building had its roof ripped off and houses were torn down near Baler, the provincial capital that draws surfers from around the world.

Lontoc also said the authorities cancelled a surfing competition in Baler scheduled for the weekend and ordered about 2,000 would-be participants to remain indoors.

Flood warning

Despite the storm weakening, the authorities warned that heavy rains could trigger flash floods and landslides in the region, home to more than 1.6 million people and known for its spectacular rice terraces carved on the slopes of towering mountains.

"We are strongly recommending forced evacuations in the Cordillera administrative region, especially villages that are landslide- and flood-prone," Pama said.

The state weather service has also warned of storm surges – massive typhoon-generated waves smashing along coastal areas – but there have been no such reports yet as the storm moved inland.

Some residents of Dupax near the Pantabangan dam were hunkering down under darkening skies, headed for the relative safety of schools and government buildings as floodwaters rose.

The Philippines is hit by an average of 20 storms each year, many of them deadly.

The deadliest and strongest on record, Super Typhoon Haiyan, destroyed entire towns in the central islands in November 2013, leaving more than 7,350 people dead or missing.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP, REUTERS)

 

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